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2023 Environmental Law Clinic Highlights

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Sturm College of Law

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Environmental Law Clinic participants outdoors

Environmental Law Clinic student attorneys at Bear Creek State Park.

Student attorneys in the Environmental Law Clinic (ELC) have achieved pathbreaking successes protecting Colorado’s waterways from factory farm pollution and holding the state government accountable for cleaning up air pollution while representing local and national groups before state and federal courts on a wide range of environmental issues.   

The Environmental Law Clinic started the year by touring Bear Creek State Park and meeting with local advocates to learn about the damage a proposed reservoir expansion project would have on this important space for communities near Denver. 

The ELC also welcomed new Lasch Clinical Teaching Fellow Asha Brundage-Moore. Before joining the clinic, she was a litigation fellow with the Animal Legal Defense Fund and clerked for Judge McKee of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Student attorneys in the ELC are working on some of the most pressing environmental issues facing Colorado and its communities. Last year, students won a significant victory on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Food & Water Watch in an administrative appeal of the water pollution permit for factory farms in Colorado. Although the permit prohibits factory farms from polluting Colorado’s waterways by leaking pollution into groundwater, the permit did not require factory farms to monitor that pollution. On behalf of their clients, students argued that the permit’s failure to monitor for this pollution violated the Clean Water Act’s requirements. The administrative law judge agreed, declaring the permit invalid and ordering the agency to modify the permit to require monitoring for this pollution. The state and factory farm industry have appealed the decision, and some of this year’s student attorneys continue to defend Colorado’s waterways on behalf of their clients.

ELC student attorneys also are representing the Center for Biological Diversity and 350 Colorado in an appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decision to approve parts of Colorado’s plan to address ozone pollution in the Denver area. Denver metro and the Front Range experience some of the worst ozone pollution in the country, and the region has failed to meet federal air pollution standards for as long as those standards have existed. Recently, the EPA decided to approve elements of a plan Colorado put forth to reduce ozone pollution even though they had already found that the plan hadn’t reduced pollution as required by the Clean Air Act. On behalf of their clients, student attorneys will argue before the Tenth Circuit that this decision to approve a plan that’s already failed violated the Clean Air Act. 

ELC Faculty Highlights

Assistant Professor Wyatt Sassman  

Prioritizing Proximity in Phasing Out Oil & Gas Extraction, 55 CONN. L. REV. 749 (symposium on Climate and Environmental Justice in the 21st Century: A Just Transition) (2023).

The Legal Foundations of Extractive Power, 71 UCLA L. REV. __ (forthcoming 2024). 

“Waste’s Potential,” 2023 Natural Resources Law Teachers Workshop, Univ. of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law (July 22, 2023). 

“Embedding Racial Justice in the Work of Environmental NGOs,” Eighth Annual SRP Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators, Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law, Arizona State University (May 12, 2023).

“The Rights of Nature Movement: Lunch & Learn,” Denver Law Natural Resources & Environmental Law Society (April 17, 2023). 

“Navigating Choppy Waters: River Access and Recreation in Colorado,” 2023 Water Law Symposium, Denver Law (April 14, 2023).

“Best New LPE and LPE-Adjacent Scholarship,” LPEBlog (April 5, 2023.) 

“Recommended,” Legal Theory Blog (March 24, 2023). 

“Colorado Air Pollution Regulations Offer Neighborhood Groups Free Lawyers to Represent them in Environmental Rulemaking,” Colorado Sun (July 26, 2023).

“Colorado Supreme Court shuts door on man’s challenge to private riverbed ownership,” Colorado Politics (June 5, 2023).

“Leaders in Environmental Law,” Lawdragon (February 3, 2023) (named as a leading lawyer in environmental justice & law for the second time).