Championing Environmental Justice
Six Students Awarded Environmental Justice Fellowships
Six American University Washington College of Law students have been awarded a 2023 Program on Environmental and Energy Law (PEEL) Environmental Justice Fellowship.
The highly competitive fellowship program attracted more than 10 applications this year. The students, Jillian Mayer, Bruce Leal, Shade Streeter, David Kimelman, Elizabeth Ross, and Kim Hayes, were awarded stipends up to $3,000. They also received professional development assistance and networking opportunities.
Over the summer, Leal dedicated his time to a clerkship position at the Indigenous Peoples Unit (IPU) with Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA) in Bangor, Maine. Throughout this experience, he collaborated closely with seasoned attorneys, providing crucial legal aid to individuals and families grappling with challenges stemming from their identity as Indigenous People. One notable case involved a mother and her 8-year-old son seeking a protection order within tribal court. With Leal's support and the legal team's expertise, they effectively presented their case, persuading the judge to grant the woman’s request and secure the necessary court order. This successful intervention shielded the mother and her child from potential future harm.
"Through PEEL’s Environmental Justice Fellowship, I was able to help clients like this attain a more equitable outcome in the face of environmental harms and societal marginalization," Leal said.
Streeter clerked for the DC office of Native American Rights Fund (NARF). While his work focused on a variety of topics, he found his work on voting laws to be the most compelling.
"Like many environmental justice communities across the United States, access to reliable and accessible voting is foundational to alleviating many of the environmental stresses so often pushed onto environmental justice communities," he said. "For Native voters, voting is frequently tied with another major issue; sovereignty."
For his main project with NARF, Streeter and another law clerk were tasked with visiting various state government offices to make sure that the state was complying with the National Voter Registration Act.
"We traveled to several of the major cities of South Dakota, Pierre and Rapid City, many small towns, and the Rosebud, Pineridge, and Cheyenne River Indian Reservations," Streeter said. "We observed offices, spoke to county auditors, and most importantly, conducted surveys of the people leaving the offices we visited."
Streeter learned that environmental justice lessons go beyond pollution, land use and toxic waste regulation.
"Environmental justice issues are often at the nexus of many others, with the right and access to vote being foundational to ensuring equal justice," Streeter said.
While working as a legal intern with Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, Ross gained valuable experience doing legal research, drafting legal memoranda and submitting a legal blog post for the website.
"Doing this work was both incredibly humbling and rewarding," she said. "I hope to continue this work through my law school experience as well as the rest of my legal career."
Mayer spent her summer with the Maryland Office of the Attorney General – Department of Natural Resources conducting research, producing various types of writing, and participating in pre-trial litigation. Additionally, she had the opportunity to spend time in nature.
"This summer confirmed that I want to work in environmental law, and introduced me to careers in state government," she said.
Kimelman dedicated his summer serving in the Land, Groundwater, and Waste Division within the North Carolina Department of Justice Environmental Division. With a background spanning six years on Capitol Hill pursuing law, he sought to explore a different side of government work, leading him to immerse himself in the intricate environmental landscape of the Department of Justice.
"While the work of the Department of Justice is not necessarily focused on environmental justice in a traditional sense, I was able to find nexus with the work I was assigned and how it supported the communities of North Carolina," Kimelman said. "I am glad I got the opportunity to explore working for the state government as a lawyer and to see how decisions as a public servant can shape the implementation of policies that aim to uplift local communities."
Hayes spent her last summer clerking for the White House Council on Environmental Quality. She was given the opportunity to work on a long-term research project and even attended a congressional public hearing for the first time.
"Every encounter with an intern or staff member contributed to the unbelievable experience I had at the CEQ, and overall, I feel confident that I am leaving my White House clerkship with a better understanding of my role in the progression toward climate equity and the government’s role in achieving it," she said.
Since 2019, PEEL has channeled a portion of its donations to support valuable opportunities for students, enabling them to engage in impactful study and work related to Environmental Justice. The initiative’s primary mission is to energize the next generation of AUWCL community lawyers to actively identify and address equitable solutions to critical environmental challenges that significantly impact low-income and communities of color.
~Story by Liz Newton.