By Claire Stamler-Goody
In 2016, a University of Chicago Law School clinic began working with East Chicago, Indiana, residents in their fight for a safe cleanup of the soil contamination that has harmed the area for decades. In a different project, the same clinic represents Soulardarity, a nonprofit that helps residents in the Detroit area launch their own solar energy projects, advocate for reliable electricity service, and more.
On the surface, the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic’s two projects are very different. One involves solar power and electricity; the other addresses land contamination. The work in Detroit supports a nonprofit organization; in East Chicago, the clinic represents concerned citizens living in an area that has long been part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program, which cleans up contaminated sites. What they have in common, though, is a focus on equity in environmental protection—a focus that marks the Abrams Clinic as a leader of a larger movement within the field.
In East Chicago and Detroit, the Abrams Clinic is advocating for communities that are particularly vulnerable to environmental harms and that often don’t have a voice in the conversations that affect them most.
“These are communities that have historically been underserved,” said Clinical Prof. Mark Templeton, director of the Abrams Clinic. “And they are rightfully entitled to be treated more equitably. We’ve got to confront that and ask, ‘How are the systems set up that perpetuate this?’”
There has been a notion, Templeton said, that environmental law clinics can either focus on environmental justice or another area of environmental law—but he doesn’t see it that way. These different facets of environmental law are so intertwined that it cannot be one or the other, he said.
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