With calls to address the climate crisis echoing across the globe, it is possible that environmental law has never been a more relevant and imperative field of study. In recent years, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School students have led the charge for increased environmental advocacy, primarily through the student-run Environmental Law Project (ELP).
“Facing a global climate crisis and horrendous environmental injustices in our own community, Penn Law students understand that we must act,” said Sage Lincoln L’23, an active member of the Environmental Law Project (ELP). “Through student-led pro bono projects, internships, and research, many students are using their legal education to make a difference and fight for a better, more equitable future.”
The Environmental Law Project (ELP) is a student-led organization affiliated with the Toll Public Interest Center (TPIC) that bridges the gaps between environmental advocacy, education, and building professional community. Through ELP, students engage in projects that span impact litigation, regulation, and activism.
Impact Litigation & Regulation
In their current impact litigation work, ELP students are working alongside the Public Interest Law Center to engage in pioneering research investigating the intersection of civil rights and environmental justice. In one project, students are delving into the nuances of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminating on the basis of specific classes, such as race, and allows individuals to file administrative complaints for violations with those federal agencies that provide financial assistance. The aim of ELP’s research is to explore the potential opportunity for environmental justice communities grappling with existing pollution sources to bring Title VI claims.
The group’s regulatory projects are equally forward-focused. This semester, ELP students have delved into the emerging and largely decentralized field of cryptocurrencies, which require an extensive amount of energy in powering computers during the mining process. To further understand the regulatory challenges related to these digital assets, ELP has partnered with the Sierra Club to research the environmental impacts of cryptocurrency, potential legal challenges related to cryptocurrency, and alternative rate structures.
ELP’s faculty sponsor, Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science Cary Coglianese, directs the Penn Program on Regulation and regularly produces leading scholarship on environmental law and other issues in the regulatory and administrative law space. Coglianese serves as a prominent voice in discussions pertaining to how environmental law intersects not only with emerging regulatory areas such as cryptocurrency, but also with other contemporary topics, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the advancement of civil rights.
“The extraordinarily talented law students we are fortunate to have at Penn possess an exceptional interest in climate and environment law,” said Coglianese. “And the Law School provides them opportunities both to advance environmental justice as law students as well as prepare for high-impact careers as lawyers in a field that makes a real difference to society.”
Organizing for Change
In addition to providing pro bono support to organizations fighting for environmental justice, students in ELP also organize informational, networking, and advocacy-oriented events on the Law School campus that highlight different areas of environmental law, policy, and opportunities for activism.
This semester, ELP organized a panel that brought together alumni who work in diverse environmental capacities across the country to interact with students and share information about what environmental careers look like in non-profit, government, and private sectors.
“Penn Law students have propelled themselves into impactful environmental law careers at organizations like Earthjustice, NRDC, and DOJ,” Lincoln said. “Students are powerful drivers of environmental advocacy at Penn Law. Student-led pro bono projects allow students to work on important environmental law issues with local organizations. Student advocacy prompted the hiring of [Presidential Distinguised Professor of Law and Energy Policy] Shelley Welton — a renowned scholar whose research focuses on climate change and clean energy justice.”
Welton, whose scholarship focuses on the intersections between energy law and climate change, will also hold an affiliation with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, where she is currently a visiting scholar.
“I’m so excited to be joining Penn’s growing group of scholars working on environment and energy issues,” Welton said. “I view training students to help address climate change — one of the central ecological and social justice challenges of our times — as the greatest privilege and highest responsibility of my work, and I cannot wait to get started.”
Coglianese, who chaired the faculty search committee that selected Welton, expressed excitement for the unique and valuable expertise Welton will contribute to the Law School’s faculty.
“Professor Welton possesses extraordinary interdisciplinary expertise and produces brilliant scholarship,” said Coglianese. “The Law School faculty feels extremely lucky to have her join us.”