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Tag: Wendy Jacobs

Climate Change Case is Heard in Court of Appeals

By: Olivia Klein

Source: Robin Loznak

A group of young people are fighting to sue the U.S. government in an ongoing case about climate change, which has recently returned to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Juliana v. United States was filed in 2015 by 21 children and young adults who argue that their basic constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are being violated by the government’s inaction in the face of climate change and subsidizing of fossil fuels. Their direct constitutional argument is that they have a right to a stable climate system. In addition, they claim that the public trust doctrine, which gives the government the responsibility to hold resources such as land, water, and fisheries in trust for its citizens, has been violated. The plaintiffs of Juliana argue that as a trustee of the atmosphere, the government has failed to take measures protecting it, such as limiting fossil fuel use and cutting greenhouse gas emissions, despite having explicit knowledge that combustion of fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, harmfully accelerating climate change.

Numerous people have signed on to plaintiff-side amicus briefs filed by international lawyers, members of Congress, and leading public health experts alike. Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic is one such supporter of the case; the clinic filed its own amicus brief in March, authored by Clinic Director Wendy Jacobs, Deputy Director Shaun Goho, and a clinical student, Grant Glovin, ’20.  At the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, Jacobs and Goho supervise students working on litigation and other projects that address a variety of environmental issues, including climate change, renewable energy, and water pollution. In the amicus brief, the authors from the clinic write, “This generation is suffering – and will continue to suffer as they age – harms different from those of prior generations.”

In their argument, Juliana plaintiffs cite public health consequences caused by climate change, such as asthma and allergies from exposure to wildfire and smoke, worsening infectious disease exposures, and food and water insecurity. “There’s a really robust body of scientific literature that supports each of these different kinds of health impacts that are already being observed and are projected to get worse and worse,” Goho told Inside Climate News.

In addition to these immediate bodily harms, experts also point to the future threats facing the next generation, such as the health risks and stress that go along with hurricanes, wildfires, and rising sea levels threatening their homes. “The Juliana generation is going to feel and suffer from those impacts in a way that’s really different and more extreme than what any previous generation has felt,” the amicus brief states.

The federal government has continuously fought for the case to be dismissed, arguing that no single judge can require the government to stop global climate change. Government lawyers point towards the young people’s argument as a “generalized” grievance and suggest that their injuries do not directly correspond to government actions.

On June 4, 2019, the case returned to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where three judges held an hour-long hearing to listen to arguments from both sides. Judges raised questions for both parties, suggesting that the plaintiffs’ approach was too broad while the government’s arguments to shut down the case were too narrow.

The decision the Ninth Circuit Court makes will determine whether the Juliana case will be allowed to proceed to trial in district court.

Puerto Rico Benefits From Harvard’s Living Lab

Via Harvard Law Today 

Credit: Alyssa Curran
Still suffering from the aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria, the city of Utuado (pictured) will implement a plan for renewable electricity, which was created by Harvard students in the “Climate Solutions Living Lab” course.

A plan designed by a team of Harvard University students to create a reliable source of renewable, affordable electricity for a Puerto Rican community hammered in 2017 by Hurricane Maria has moved a step closer to reality.

The community group Unidos por Utuado has won $100,000 in seed funding from the Puerto Rico Big Ideas Challenge to implement the plan by students enrolled in Harvard’s “Climate Solutions Living Lab” course.

The proposal calls for revitalizing three nearby, long-neglected hydroelectric units to generate inexpensive, reliable electricity that emits virtually no greenhouse gases. The students’ vision is that a community-based electric cooperative would own the power facility and ensure that local residents control new jobs and other benefits created by the project.

“The seed funding will allow the community to form the cooperative and hire people to help them move the concept forward,” said Wendy Jacobs ’81, the faculty leader of the course and the Emmett Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School.

The project began in January 2018 when Jacobs dispatched one of six students on the team, Alyssa Curran, M.U.P. ’18, to the island. Curran toured Puerto Rico, including the storm-ravaged inland community of Utuado, and observed the destruction of homes and commercial buildings, roads, and electric infrastructure. She also connected with Unidos por Utuado, one of many community groups mobilizing disaster relief on the island. At the time, “Climate Solutions Living Lab” was considering several projects in Puerto Rico, and Curran, in consultation with Jacobs, decided one of those should focus on Utuado because of the barriers it faced to storm recovery.

Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico. A Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study found that the number of deaths related to the September 2017 storm was much larger than the official estimates, and there were 4,645 additional deaths in the three-month period following the storm, which is believed to have caused more than $90 billion in damage. Electric service was only recently restored to the entire island. In Utuado, an isolated mountain community of approximately 30,000, about 30 percent of households were without electricity and safe running water seven months after the storm struck.

Credit: Alyssa Curran 
The power poles in Cayey, located in central Puerto Rico, snapped during the storm.

Back at Harvard, the students participating in the spring 2018 class who were assigned to the Utuado project proposed that rather than build a new power source for the community, they would recycle an old one.

The plan was this: Utuado would create an electric cooperative to acquire and refurbish three legacy hydroelectric units on lakes Dos Bocas and Caonillas and install a pumped solar system. In addition to providing reliable energy, the facility would save money. Puerto Rican’s electric bills are the highest in the U.S. next to Hawaii, the students’ research found, and they believed that adopting their plan could slash electric rates to about 8 cents per kWh, compared with the approximately 20 cents per kWh they now pay.

The benefits to the climate were also clear, according to the students. Currently, 98 percent of Puerto Rico’s electricity is generated by fossil fuels. However, the students estimated the hydroelectric plants would generate approximately 26.5 megawatts of clean energy, with a potential offset of about 115,000 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents in year one and an average of 105,000 tons of offsets per year over a 20-year time period. Reducing that amount of emissions annually is equivalent to taking more than 22,000 vehicles off the road, or the average energy use of more than 11,000 homes.

The Puerto Rico project is one of nine projects developed in the course since its 2017 launch, as part of Harvard’s ambitious climate action goals and Living Lab initiative.

The innovative course is a partnership between the Office for Sustainability and Harvard Law School and was developed to engage multidisciplinary teams of graduate students in working together to test innovative solutions or renewable energy investments — such as the Puerto Rico project — that achieve actual emissions reductions beyond the Harvard campus while also achieving other social, economic, and health benefits.

Under Jacobs’ leadership, the Climate Solutions Living Lab engages with senior faculty experts from across Harvard’s professional Schools as well as outside experts, and operates like a professional project development team. The teams of six students are comprised of master’s and doctoral students from Harvard Business School (HBS), Harvard Chan School, John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), Law School, Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), Graduate School of Design, and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

In addition to Curran, the Puerto Rico team included: Ethan Hughes, Harvard Chan School; Leticia Rojas, HKS; Bridger Ruyle, SEAS; Max Tenney ’18, HLS; and Isabella Wechsler, HKS and HBS.

This article was published in the Harvard Gazette on December 14, 2018.

Students help groups to pursue climate action

Via Harvard Gazette

Photo of students in Alaska

Photo by Caroline Lauer
Vik Bakshi (left), Caroline Lauer, and Yuan Zhang were part of a team of graduate students that traveled to Alaska to develop an innovative plan for reducing carbon emissions by preserving existing forest land.

How could preserving forests in Alaska or reducing nitrogen fertilizer runoff on farms in the Midwest help an organization interested in mitigating climate impact?

This was one of the questions posed to diverse teams of graduate students brought together as part of the new, multidisciplinary “Climate Solutions Living Lab” course launched by Harvard University last spring to help push forward the transition to a carbon-free future that supports planetary and human health.

Led by Wendy Jacobs, the Emmett Clinical Professor of Environmental Law and director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, and developed in collaboration with the Harvard Office for Sustainability, the three-year research and teaching project was funded by the University as part of its living lab initiative to use the campus as a test bed for innovative sustainability solutions that can then be replicated across much broader levels.

“No single professional discipline can tackle climate change in isolation; collaboration is critical,” said Jacobs. “We designed this course to address real-world challenges faced by climate leaders who are interested in investing in off-site emissions-reduction projects that can be proven to deliver environmental and social benefit.”

The course’s outcomes are expected to offer Harvard clear strategies for how it can most effectively pursue high-quality, off-site emissions projects in the short term as part of the University’s longstanding commitment to modeling how organizations can dramatically reduce the climate impact of their operations. These same strategies, says Jacobs, can be implemented by other organizations.

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Harvard strengthens ‘living laboratory’ to help mitigate climate impact

Via HLS News

Wendy Jacobs, clinical professor and director of Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, will lead the Living Lab Course and Research Project

Credit: Graphic by Judy Blomquist/Harvard Staff

Healthy buildings and clean air keep people healthy.

That simple premise is driving a series of studies being conducted by Harvard researchers, some of which have gathered insights from University dorms and office buildings. It is part of a multiyear partnership between the Office for Sustainability and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment to usecampus spaces to inform public health research and apply the findings in capital projects and renovations.

This partnership and another involving faculty and students working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are being hailed as models for the type of collaborative work that the University wants to stimulate as it launches a reinvigorated “campus as a living laboratory” initiative. The effort will support projects that use the campus as a test site for developing solutions that enhance well-being and mitigate climate impact, or help neighboring communities tackle these problems. The outcomes will be specifically designed for sharing at local, regional, and global levels.

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Hunting polluting gases around Boston

Climate fund grant supports efforts to track sources of mysterious leaks

Via Harvard Gazette

Video thumbnail for Wofsy-UrbanLab-FINAL

Harvard students, faculty, and fellows are training new high-tech instruments on Boston’s skies, searching for one well-known troublemaker and one escapee among the atmosphere’s invisible gases.

The old troublemaker is carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas released by burning fossil fuels that long has been known as the main cause of climate change. The escapee is methane, an even more powerful emission that is the main component of the natural gas burned in home furnaces and in the electricity-generating power plants that are shouldering aside coal-fired plants across the country.

Though both are fossil fuels, burning natural gas is better than burning coal when it comes to the environment, because natural gas releases half as much carbon dioxide for an equal amount of energy generated. In addition, it is far cleaner than other pollutants in its burning, including in the fine particles that can cause health problems.

Unburned natural gas, however, is another story.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and, if it escapes into the atmosphere unburned, can trap between 15 and 100 times more solar radiation than carbon dioxide can. Understanding how methane gets into the atmosphere from both natural and manmade sources has become an important focus of climate research.

Steven Wofsy, Harvard’s Abbott Lawrence Rotch Professor of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, said it’s pretty clear that a significant amount of unburned natural gas is escaping in the Boston region. He is leading a project to find the source of the leak or leaks and, in collaboration with faculty and students from Harvard Law School, seeking to design technical, legal, or regulatory solutions to reduce the emissions. …

The project is being conducted in collaboration with Hutyra and Wendy Jacobs, clinical professor of law and director of the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School.

Jacobs said the interdisciplinary nature of the project is key, and the goal is not just to use science to illuminate the problem of methane and carbon dioxide emissions in the city, but to design laws and regulations to address the problem.

“Laws, regulations, and public policy will not be effective unless informed by reliable science and data. Reliable science and data can effectively be deployed to solve a problem when integrated into new technologies, laws, regulations, and public policies,” Jacobs said. “The collaboration of our distinct disciplines is more powerful than either discipline alone.”

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Two Win 2015 Exemplary Clinical Student Award

Harvard Law School’s Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs recognizes two graduating students who exemplify putting theory into practice through clinical work. The honorees are Seth Hoedl ’15 and Seth Packrone ’15. They have demonstrated excellence in representing individual clients and undertaking advocacy or policy reform projects. In addition, both students are recognized for demonstrating thoughtfulness and compassion in their practice and for contributing to the clinical community at HLS in a meaningful way.

Seth Hoedl, J.D. ’15

Seth Hoedl (Clinical Award)

Credit: Lorin Granger

As a student in the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, Seth Hoedl demonstrated exceptional skills and experience in tackling significant environmental problems. During his four semesters in the clinic, he examined whether a European nation was in violation of the Espoo Convention, developed a legal strategy to help the City of Boston provide energy resilience to its residents through microgrids, and identified new ways that universities and others can decrease and offset their greenhouse gas emissions.

“In each project, Seth demonstrated a level of commitment, initiative, and ability far beyond a typical law student,” said Clinical Professor of Law Wendy Jacobs. “Seth has also contributed to the clinic through his self-reflection and team spirit. In particular, his self-assessments have always been thoughtful and considered. Both through these and through other conversations, Seth has suggested concrete ways that we can improve the clinic and the learning experience for all students.”

“I am originally trained as a physicist and I came to law school to bridge divides between scientists, engineers, lawyers and policymakers with regards to energy and climate change,” said Seth. The clinic enabled me to start building these bridges and help both engineers and lawyers overcome real world challenges before I even graduated. It far exceeded my expectations.”

Seth Packrone, J.D. ’15 

Seth Packrone (Clinical Award)

Credit: Lorin Granger

Seth Packrone spent several semesters in the Clinical and Pro Bono Programs working with the Child Advocacy Clinic, Criminal Justice Institute (CJI), Education Law Clinic, and Mississippi Delta Project. “Seth is the rare combination of hard work, integrity and compassion,” said Clinical Professor of Law Dehlia Umunna who supervised him in the Criminal Justice Institute.

Seth joined CJI in the fall of 2014 and worked on a variety of cases in juvenile and adult court. He represented several clients, including a 55 year old man with mental health and substance abuse issues. Seth visited this client at the jail, arranged for social services to aid with his transition back into the community, and successfully resolved all of his cases.

“Seth has received glowing compliments from judges, prosecutors, other defense counsel and his colleagues,” said Dehlia. “In addition to the brilliant job he did on his cases, he is a kind, helpful member of the clinical community. He is always eager to assist his colleagues with investigating, brainstorming, trial preparation and research. Although he had one of the highest case loads, he never murmured or complained. Seth represents the very best of what a clinical student should be.”

“My clinical work has been the most meaningful part of my time at HLS. I will always be thankful for my experiences working with such incredible clients, students, faculty, and staff and everything they taught me about the important work that public interest lawyers do,” said Seth. “I am truly honored by this award.”

Clinic Students Visit Historic Dam They Seek to Protect

Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic students visit dam

Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic students visit dam

Via the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic

Clinic students Sarah Peterson (JD ’15) and Albert Teng (JD ’15) started their academic year seeing the real world impact of their work. First, they attended oral arguments in the case of United States Department of the Interior v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission before the First Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 13-2439). Second, the Clinic team traveled to Lowell, Massachusetts to visit the dam that was the subject of the case.Last semester, working with Clinic Director Wendy Jacobs and Clinical Instructor Aladdine Joroff, Sarah and Albert submitted an amicus brief in the case on behalf of nonprofit organizations regarding historic preservation issues relating to a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decision to amend the license for a hydroelectric project that impacts the Pawtucket Dam in the Lowell National Historical Park. Lowell’s history as the first large-scale planned industrial city in the United States, powered by its hydropower system, is protected by the Lowell National Historical Park Act (the “Lowell Act”). In its brief, the Clinic argued that the project approved by FERC would adversely affect the Pawtucket Dam, a historic resource of the Park, in a manner that contravenes the Lowell Act’s prohibition of adverse effects on the Park’s resources.

Clinic student Albert Teng said that “working on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s amicus brief for the Pawtucket Dam case was one of the best practical experiences of [his] legal education at Harvard.”

“The work involved was challenging yet also rewarding. We were called upon to synthesize and master a complex administrative record while also determining the relevant administrative law. We then translated these findings into an amicus brief for the First Circuit. The process of writing an amicus brief was different from my other legal writing experiences. The role of amici is to educate the court and I learned to adjust my writing tone to reflect that role. Throughout the process, we had tremendous support from our clinical supervisor, Aladdine Joroff; clinical director, Wendy Jacobs; and our client, the National Trust.”

Green Infrastructure (GI) Certification Report Released by Clinic and Policy Initiative

CaptureThe Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic and the Environmental Policy Initiative released a new report, Certifications for Green Infrastructure Professionals – The Current State, Recommended Best Practices, and What Governments Can Do to Help.  The report surveys the current state of Green Infrastructure (GI) professional certification programs, discusses obstacles to the development of widely accepted certifications, recommends best practices for certification program design, and suggests measures that governments can take to promote certification programs. The report was written for various GI stakeholders, including regulators, certifying bodies, customers (e.g., municipalities and private property owners), employers and contractors, and community development and environmental groups.

This report is part of the Clinic and Policy Initiative’s ongoing green infrastructure pilot partnership with EPA, and was authored by Clinic Director Wendy B. Jacobs and Policy Initiative Director Kate Konschnik, with significant contributions from clinic student Ryland Li, JD’15.

Environmental Law and Policy Clinic Releases Newly Revised Edition of Fracking Guide

Capture6Via the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic 

The Clinic released a newly revised edition of their fracking guide today, entitled A Landowner’s Guide to Hydraulic Fracturing: Addressing Environmental and Health Issues in Oil and Gas Leases (Revised Edition, July 2014). This expanded version of the guide builds upon the previous edition. In particular, it is aimed at landowners across the country and contains information relevant for property owners who are considering whether to sign a lease to allow either oil or gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing, including proposed lease language. The guide was prepared and revised by Clinic students, including Joshua Herlands (JD’12), Humu-Annie Seini (LLM’11), Zachary Kearns (JD’14), Sarah Peterson (JD’15), and Albert Teng (JD’15), together with the Clinic’s lawyers Shaun Goho, Wendy Jacobs, and Aladdine Joroff.

The Clinic and Policy Initiative Announce New Report on Regional and Municipal Stormwater Management

Via the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic

The Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic and the Environmental Policy Initiative released a new report, Regional and Municipal Stormwater Management: A Comprehensive Approach. This report analyzes options for addressing stormwater pollution at both the regional and municipal level, encourages the adoption of green infrastructure by municipalities as a stormwater pollution reduction strategy, and recommends that municipalities consider participating in a regional program as a comprehensive and cost-effective way to address stormwater pollution.

This report is part of the Clinic and Policy Initiative’s ongoing green infrastructure pilot partnership with EPA, and was authored by Clinic Director Wendy B. Jacobs and Policy Initiative Director Kate Konschnik. The following students also contributed to the report: Dakotah Burns, JD’15; Tsuki Hoshijima, JD’15; Carl Lisberger, JD’14; Sean Lyness, JD’15; and Chrystel Marincich, JD’15.

Environmental Clinic Files Three Amicus Briefs

Via: The News Section of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic

On January 28, 2014, the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case Utility Air Regulatory Group v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This case involves challenges to EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program of the Clean Air Act. Clinic student William Cranch (JD ’15) wrote the brief under the supervision of Clinic Director Wendy Jacobs and Senior Clinical Instructor Shaun Goho.

The Clinic also filed two amicus briefs on February 14, 2014 in related cases before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court involving a proposed power plant in Brockton, Massachusetts. Clinical students Alexandria Shasteen (JD ’14), Jean Tanis (JD ’15), and Zachary Kearns (JD ’14) worked with Clinic Director Wendy Jacobs and Clinical Instructor Aladdine Joroff on these briefs.

Update: Victory for Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic

From the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic:

Led by Clinic Director and Clinical Professor Wendy Jacobs, HLS students have prevailed in a two-year battle to lift restrictions on the installation of solar power in Massachusetts.

For more than 2 years, the Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic has represented a group of general contractors who specialize in renewable energy projects but were being blocked from installing solar power by a state licensing board. Taking a position that was contrary to a host of state programs designed to promote solar energy, the Massachusetts State Board of Examiners of Electricians tried to prevent anyone other than licensed electricians from organizing, managing or installing solar power in the state. The Clinic stepped in to defend the solar contractors in enforcement actions and challenge the Board’s policy.

On July 18, 2012, the court granted summary judgment in the clinic’s favor holding unequivocally that: “Plaintiffs may advertise and contract for PV System installations and subcontract with licensed electricians.” The court agreed with the clinic and rejected the Board’s interpretation “because it ‘is not supported by the language of the statute, the context from which it arose, any consistent administrative interpretation, or the legislative policy on which the statute is based.'” The case is Carroll v. Massachusetts Board of State Examiners of Electricians, No. 10-3408-C.

The win is a testament to the hard work and commitment of the HLS clinic students. Said Wendy Jacobs, “I could not be prouder of them. At least 7 of our students have worked on this case since 2009, representing the clients in administrative hearings and litigation and filing at least a dozen briefs. Four students presented oral arguments in this case, and two of them–Nick McDaniel and Chris Rendall-Jackson—even returned after graduation to do so.” Jody Freeman, Director of the HLS Environmental Law Program, praised Jacobs, staff attorney Shaun Goho and the students for their persistence, “After a hard fought battle, our Clinic finally prevailed. The result is good public policy and a significant step forward for clean energy in the state of Massachusetts.”