Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic Petitions U.S. EPA for Cleaner Air and Water

Students and faculty in the Interdisciplinary Environmental Clinic (IEC) are working with clients on two important cases to address clean air and water issues in the bi-state area.

In the first, the IEC has successfully petitioned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address inadequate provisions in an air permit governing operations at the U.S. Steel manufacturing plant in Granite City, Illinois. In the second, the IEC has asked for the federal agency’s help with enforcing Clean Water Act protections in Missouri.

“Our students have been working hard with various nonprofit groups and communities on these important environmental protections,” says Maxine Lipeles, IEC co-director and senior lecturer in law. “They are learning to handle complex legal cases while working to improve and protect our air and water in Missouri and Illinois.”

In the U.S. Steel case, the IEC filed a petition on behalf of the American Bottom Conservancy—a grassroots, nonprofit organization advocating for environmental justice in Metro East. The petition asked the EPA to object to weak provisions in the steel company’s air permit. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson agreed, and as a result, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency must now revise and strengthen the permit.

IEC alumnus Aaron Oakley, JD ’10—now an associate with White & Case LLP in New York—worked on the petition along with law students Louis Baer, Daniel Hinkle, and Miles Russell and undergraduate Arts & Sciences student Erica Jackey. Also supervising students were Lipeles; Robert Kuehn, associate dean for Clinical Education, professor of law, and IEC co-director; and Elizabeth Hubertz, clinic attorney and lecturer in law.

“The two key areas requiring revision are the lack of adequate monitoring to ensure that the plant is complying with its air pollution emission limits, and the weak provisions enabling the company to avoid liability for violations when equipment malfunctions,” Hubertz says, adding that the IEPA must revise the permit within 90 days of December 3, 2012, the date of USEPA’s decision.

This marks the second time that the IEC, on behalf of the American Bottom Conservancy, has successfully petitioned USEPA to object to inadequate provisions in this air permit for U.S. Steel. The first petition was filed in October 2009 and granted in January 2011.

In the other case, the IEC has petitioned the EPA to use its authority to set basic Clean Water Act protections for water bodies in Missouri. Authority to protect lakes and streams was delegated to Missouri, but the state has repeatedly failed to comply with the most basic protections under the Clean Water Act (CWA), the petition argues.

The CWA requires that all waters in the state are fishable and swimmable—a goal that was supposed to have been met in 1983. However, Missouri currently only protects 15 percent of its waters with this basic level of protection. 

The IEC, on behalf of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, filed a lawsuit against the state, and in early 2012 a federal court agreed that Missouri was out of compliance with the CWA.

However, since that time Missouri has made little progress toward protecting its waters, so the petition was filed asking the EPA to step in and protect water quality in Missouri.

While awaiting a response from the EPA, the IEC and Missouri Coalition for the Environment will continue to participate in ongoing state-level discussions to improve water quality in Missouri. 

Working on this case over the last couple years were law students Robert Bewkes, Greg Boyle, Stephen Coffey, Melissa Fernley, Kevin Flynn, Matthew Johnson, Jasper Kan, Stacey Lee, Caitlin McCoy, Benjamin Schreiber, Lauren Smith, Blake Trueblood, Jonathan Wolff, and Mark Yossef. Also working with alumnus Oakley and IEC faculty on the interdisciplinary teams were Arts & Sciences students Craig Aubuchon, Rebecca Bernard, Meredith Berwick, John Delurey, Alyse Festenstein, Rayna Gordon-Hellman, Benjamin Jones, Ashley Spence, Elina Tselepidakis, Zoe Unruh, and Allison Whaley; social work student Sara Edgar; and Public Health student Nina Parikh.

“As the list of students indicates, the IEC is truly an interdisciplinary clinic that draws on the skills of a diverse group of talented, dedicated students,” Lipeles says, adding that the IEC’s structure is unique among environmental law clinics.

“The interdisciplinary student teams enjoy front-line responsibility under faculty supervision for environmental law cases and projects of local, regional, and national importance that also require scientific expertise,” she says.

  • Click here for a related article about the Clean Water Act in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

By Timothy J. Fox