The Louisiana Environment
Tulane Environmental Law Clinic
By: Jordan Palmeri
The Tulane Environmental Law Clinic is the largest environmental law clinic in the country. The clinic was established in 1989 for two main purposes. The first is to train third year law students. The students obtain first hand experience by representing real clients in real situations. The second purpose of the clinic is to provide free legal assistance to indigent individuals or organizations that would otherwise not be able to afford representation on their own. This service is aimed to “protect and restore the environment for the benefit of the public” (Tulane 8). In addition to these two main goals, the law clinic also has a Community Outreach program which teaches the public to identify environmental issues and take the appropriate action.
As one of the main functions of the clinic, third year law students act as student attorneys who have the same responsibilities as a practicing attorney, but are under the direct supervision of one of the clinic’s environmental law fellows, or clinic instructors. Each of these instructors may act as the supervising attorney for up to 10 students. The clinic instructor must approve every legal action that the students take. A student attorney of the clinic is responsible for “developing and maintaining contacts with clients; investigating and developing the facts; identifying, interviewing, and preparing the necessary witnesses; analyzing the legal issues; drafting documents, pleadings, and briefs; and presenting the case to the agency or court” (Tulane 8).
Since 1989, the student attorney’s and their instructors have handled over 200 cases, representing over 170 different community organizations. Some of the issues the clinic deals with are wetland protection, urban zoning, clean water, clean air, landfill locations, and energy. The types of cases that the clinic adopts span the environmental spectrum. Many of the clinic’s cases deal with plant locations along the Mississippi River. The section of the Mississippi River from Baton Rogue to New Orleans is often referred to as “Cancer Alley” because of the numerous chemical plants located there. Over 20 percent of the nation’s chemicals are produced in this short section of the Mississippi River, which makes zoning new chemical plants in this area a major concern.
Besides taking on legal cases, the clinic also offers environmental education for the public. The Community Outreach program is designed to educate and organize the public and acts as one of the most important tools of the clinic. Many communities are unaware of the serious environmental problems they face. After learning to identify these problems, communities must learn how to document what is happening and report the problem to the proper authorities. The clinic helps conduct workshops in environmental awareness. They assist people who are asking for grants, help make flyers for meetings or events, show people where to look for permit notices, and answer questions regarding the restrictions on certain permits. The clinic often acts as a resource for information since they have the ability to find out current and accurate information quickly. The clinic often helps people who phone in simple questions, such as whether or not they will be harmed by the pesticides being spraying on nearby farms. Through education and organization, the law clinic helps people and communities who would have been the victims of environmental injustice.
Amanda Leiker, a student intern at the law clinic, has been working with the Agricultural Street Community since January of this year. The Agricultural Street community is a collection of 167 public housing complexes as well as 67 single-family homes. The community was started in the late 70’s, with the public housing going up first, followed by the single-family homes. This community is built on top of an old landfill, a site approved by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department (HUD). This landfill extends over 17 feet into the ground, and has been officially declared a superfund site by the Environmental Protection Agency. Superfund sites are among the most contaminated sites in the country (Superfund). The residents were not informed that they were living on top of an old landfill when they purchased their homes. .
The EPA found over 150 different contaminants in the soil. Not much progress was made until 1993, when the Concerned Citizens of Agricultural Street Landfill (CCASL) was formed. The citizens demanded a cleanup, but the “cleanup” was an unsatisfactory solution to a problem of such severity. Forty-nine of the single-family homes did not give the EPA permission to do the cleanup, because they felt it would be ineffective. These 49 families are now fighting to be relocated.
The fight over who will pay for this relocation has been going on for years. The EPA claims it will provide a substantial portion of the costs for relocation, as long as the city provides the rest. But getting New Orleans mayor Marc Morial to discuss the city's share of the bill has been an ongoing battle. Amanda Leiker is trying to get HUD, the EPA, Mayor Morial, and the CCASL to sit down together and discuss relocation. When asked about the landfill she replied:
“By pursuing relocation for the Agriculture Street community through the community outreach program, I hope to help right some of the many wrongs that have been done to this community and others like it. So many injustices have occurred unnecessarily in the Agriculture Street community, injustices that could have been easily prevented. It seems that now the various involved agencies (EPA, HUD, and the City of New Orleans) are constrained by their past mistakes at Ag. Street, and are afraid to take responsibility for the many environmental injustices. Hopefully, through helping the community organize itself and providing manpower and technical assistance, we at the community outreach program can help convince the responsible parties to relocate Agriculture Street” (Leiker personal communication).
The Shintech case has been the law clinic's most controversial case. Shintech Inc. wanted to build a chemical manufacturing plant along the Mississippi River in the area near Convent, in the St James Parish. This chemical plant would add one more plant to the already highly polluted section of the Mississippi River referred to as “Cancer Alley.” “Lung cancer rates in the ‘Cancer Alley’ area around Convent are about 30 percent above the national average” (Ryan 3). The plant would produce 1.3 billion pounds of PVC per year, making the air quality in the St. James Parish significantly worse (Schleifstein A3). Shintech Inc. applied for and received a permit for the through the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), which greatly upset many residents of St James Parish. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) discovered that the permits were flawed, and could be legally challenged (Miller per comm). LEAN decided to go to the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic for help.
Student attorneys John Drykoski and Susan Lantz took the case, with supervising attorney Lisa Levee Jordan, currently the director of the law clinic. On Dec 7, 1996, a public hearing was held regarding the Shintech permits. The two Tulane students represented the St. James Citizens for Jobs and the Environment. Tulane submitted a public petition to Carol Browner, the EPA's Chief Administrator for this hearing. Lisa Jordan noted: “It was our contention that the emissions violated the civil rights of our clients by disproportionately impacting the minority community already grossly overburdened by air pollution” (pers. comm.). The Law Clinic argued that Shintech's calculations for the emissions permit did not take into account the fact that Shintech was going to be located in an already polluted area. Because of these miscalculations, the EPA agreed with the clinic's verification of 50 errors in the permits, and declared the permits invalid. In December of 1997, a second public hearing was held, at which the EPA, Tulane Law Clinic, the DEQ, and the citizens of St. James Parish were present. The public comment period following this hearing lasted through January of 1998. This period ended with no agreement on the issue, and Shintech temporarily gave up and put the permits on hold.
The law clinic won the case, but experienced harmful repercussions. Governor Mike Foster, an avid supporter of big business, was extremely upset when Shintech was denied the permits. He claimed that the Law Clinic had overstepped their bounds in the Shintech Case and interfered with Louisiana business. The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Governor himself urged the Louisiana Supreme Court to place more restrictions on students practicing law. The Supreme Court passed amendments to Rule XX, the student practicing law, that reset the guidelines for determining whom the clinic can represent. The new guidelines set a community poverty level, which had to be met by a certain percentage of the community asking for the clinic's help. These new amendments, which have drawn national attention, have prevented many communities that were truly in need of help from gaining any legal assistance. Among the actions being considered to fight the amendments are a law suit against the Louisiana Supreme Court.
Keeping with long-standing tradition, Louisiana politics
has once more put the health and well being of its citizens in jeopardy,
by rolling out the red carpet for polluters. All over the country, concerned
citizens and organizations are combating environmental injustice for the
future of their state and for its people. Let the fight continue, for the
battle is not over.
Articles from the Advocate Online www.theadvocate.com
Tulane University School of Law. Environmental Law and Advocacy. 1998.
Ryan, Dr. Timothy P. “Industrial Development in Louisiana:
Shintech Case Study.”
LEAN March 7, 1997. <http://www.leanweb.org/Shintech_a_case_study.html>
Schleifstein, Mark. “Shintech is biding its time.” The Times-Picayune
August 2, 1998:
Schleifstein, Mark. “Foster, clinics face off on rules.”
The Times-Picayune August 2,
Smith, Michael J. “Ruling on law clinics blasted.” The Times-Picayune
June 27, 1998:
"Superfund." Nov. 11, 1999. <http://www.epa.gov/superfund/>
Supreme Court of Louisiana. Rule XX. Limited Participation
of Law Students in Trial
Work. Louisiana: Supreme Court of Louisiana, 1998
Tulane Environmental Law Clinic
6329 Freret Street
New Orleans, LA 70118-6231
http://www.epa.gov/epahome/ ........The Environmental Protection Agency Website
http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/epa_link.htm .....Provides EPA environmental links
http://www.epa.gov/enviro/index_java.html .........Provides helpful environmental facts
http://www.deq.state.la.us/ .......Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
http://www.tulane.edu .......Tulane University Home Page
http://www.greenpeace.org/ .........Green Peace Home Page
http://www.sierraclub.org/ ..........The Sierra Club Home Page
http://www.leanweb.org/ ..........The Louisiana Environmental Action Network
.........Law Clinic Page
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