The PEAC Ascent
Fall 20

The Newsletter of the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center
at Lewis & Clark Law School

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10015 S.W. Terwilliger Blvd.
Portland, OR 97219-7799
tel: 503-768-6600
fax: 503-768-6642

In This Issue
PEAC's Alumni in Alaska
PEAC's 2010-2011 Class

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Founded in 1996, PEAC is the domestic environmental legal clinic at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon. Our staff of six is passionate about achieving two goals: using the law to protect and restore the environment, and producing highly skilled environmental advocates by providing law students with real-world experience working on important cases.


PEAC provides free legal services for nonprofit conservation organizations. Our clients range from small grassroots groups - the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, for example - to large national groups such as the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity. Regardless of size and geographic scope, our clients rely on our services as a key legal tool to help secure needed environmental protections, both due to the quality of our legal representation and because there are few non-profit, pro bono law firms in the Northwest.


As Lewis & Clark Law School's environmental legal clinic, PEAC also provides hands-on legal experience to law students and summer clerks. We educate and train the next generation of public interest environmental attorneys, who receive valuable experience in client contact, legal research, drafting legal briefs and even arguing cases in court. Many of PEAC's former students now work for local, regional and national conservation organizations; others work for a variety of governmental entities to implement and enforce environmental laws. By providing students with legal experience they do not get from textbooks, PEAC helps ensure that the environmental community and those charged with carrying out laws to protect the environment will continue to have excellent legal representation in the future.


Not Yet a Supporter? Please Join Us!

In addition to training the next generation of environmental advocates, PEAC provides pro bono legal representation for environmental organizations in the region.

As a self-funded clinic, we rely on the generosity of individuals, foundations and local businesses to help us deliver expert services to PEAC students and clients. Your contributions are critical to sustaining PEAC and its commitment to protect the natural resources of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

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PEAC is hopping! We are training our largest class of new legal advocates ever (20 students), drawn from our largest applicant pool ever (36 students). Our current docket has expanded to over 35 cases, a significant increase from just a few years ago. Our high-profile cases are frequently in the in news, and our clients continue to inspire us through their commitment to environmental protection and their unwavering focus on bringing about meaningful change.

In this issue of the PEAC Ascent, we introduce you to some of our Alums up north, tell you about how our work applies to urban areas, and highlight our hard-working PEAC class of 2010-2011.


Alumni Spotlight: Alaska

While few of the cases on PEAC's docket reach as far as Alaska, our clinic impacts the Great White North through our students who move there after graduation. We asked some of our alums who are working for Alaskan environmental nonprofits to tell us more about what they are doing now.

Brian Litmans '01

Brian Litmans and Tika

"Since coming to Trustees for Alaska in the spring of 2007, I have worked on a wide variety of issues, all of great importance to preserving Alaska's wildlands, conserving Alaska's wildlife and protecting Alaska's subsistence way of life. When I first came here, I was thrown into the world of hard-rock mining. Knowing little about the intricacies of how a mine operates, I had little time to waste to get up to speed on the legal claims and relevant facts of the case before arguing before the Ninth Circuit. Although we lost the case, it serves as a strong reminder that development projects in Alaska can pose significant threats to not just the environment but all those whose subsistence way of life depends on a healthy and thriving environment. With the increased interest in mining in this state, I continue to work on proposed mines but have shifted most of my work to fighting coal. From the Chuitna coal strip mine, a massive proposed coal mine in West Cook Inlet that would destroy a healthy salmon stream, to a coal export facility, to coal-fired generating facilities, we are doing all we can to keep Alaska from becoming a major coal state. When I'm not taking on coal, I am fighting to preserve the 350 Cook Inlet beluga whales from the State's efforts to delist the species as well as several projects throughout the Inlet that will further degrade its habitat.  And never to be left out is the ongoing work to protect Alaska's federal lands. From fighting a proposed land-exchange in the Yukon Flats wildlife refuge, which would have supported oil and gas development, to protecting our national parks, like Wrangell-St. Elias, from ORV damage, there is always work to be done to ensure these lands are protected so those in the future can enjoy them as much as we do.  The projects up here tend to be of a pretty significant size and scope and the degree of impacts can be severe. The pro-development state of mind is strong and without the work of Trustees and others who take on this  development, the State would be on a downward spiral, jeopardizing healthy and intact ecosystems and the livelihoods of all those that call Alaska home. Living in a State whose economy is still heavily resource-based, the threats never wane, making work here intense and fulfilling. When not working, I try to enjoy what we work to protect.  With the Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest as our backyard, the backcountry skiing, hiking and trail running is superb.  And as a year-round bike commuter, when I'm not playing, I'm working to make Anchorage more bicycle-friendly (it is a far cry from Portland) through a non-profit I founded called Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage."

Katie Strong '08


"I am a staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska in Anchorage. Currently, I work exclusively on a case challenging the constitutionality (under state law) of Alaska's permitting of mineral exploration activities for the proposed Pebble Mine. We go to trial in December, so we've been furiously taking depositions, drafting discovery motions, and combing through the hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. All of my legal experience thus far has been with federal law and summary judgment cases, so I'm learning a lot every day and becoming comfortable with motions practice. This case is important for two primary reasons: (1) it's a case of first impression, so we have the opportunity to make really good law; and (2) if we win, the State of Alaska will have to start giving public notice of mining exploration activities and conducting a type of best interest finding. Currently, the State issues permits without requiring a meaningful evaluation of any environmental impacts. That is pretty astonishing when you're talking about drilling over a thousand holes, using substantial amounts of water from fish-bearing streams, and discharging toxic materials directly onto the tundra. The case is also important because if the Pebble Mine goes forward, it would be situated at the headwaters of the Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery. The fishery is one of the most important fisheries in the world and critical to the livelihood of native people and commercial fishermen."

Brook Brisson '08

"As a staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska, I work to protect wilderness, wildlife and water quality throughout Alaska. A large portion of my time is spent providing legal support to local, state and national groups that work to protect the lands, wildlife and cultures in the Arctic-in particular, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge-by working for stronger protections and to limit the impacts from development.This biologically rich area provides incredible habitat for birds and mammals as well as cultural and subsistence resources for the Gwich'in and Inupiat people, but is constantly under threat from both onshore and off-shore oil and gas development. I also work to protect Alaska's incredible waters and fisheries from large-scale hardrock mines. Like most things in Alaska, the existing and proposed mines are huge. Industrial mining has long-term negative impacts on water quality, land development, and subsistence resources. And because most of these mining projects are remote, mine projects require extensive support infrastructure, including roads, power lines, and ports. When I'm not working to protect the last wild frontier, chances are I'm out hiking and exploring in the mountains or cooking up fresh Alaskan fish!"

K. Strong_B. Brisson
PEAC Alums Katie Strong and Brook Brisson enjoy a gorgeous day--with a perfect view of Denali--in Alaska.

Erik Grafe LL.M. '08

"I am an attorney at Earthjustice in Alaska.  I started work in Juneau shortly after completing my LL.M. program at Lewis and Clark in 2007.  After working in Juneau for nearly two years, I helped open an office in Anchorage, where I now work.  My work focuses on Arctic oil and gas issues, primarily offshore in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.  The work involves both litigation, campaign and administrative advocacy work, and media work.  Our office represents conservation groups as well as Arctic tribal groups.

For the past three years, our office has been at the forefront of fighting the rush to open the Arctic Ocean to dangerous oil and gas activities.  As the Deepwater Horizon spill tragically demonstrates, drilling is risky business and rushing ahead approvals to drill in the offshore without adequate environmental analyses and oil spill clean-up technology can have irreversible consequences.  Nevertheless, the Arctic Ocean has seen a huge expansion  of offshore oil and gas activity over the past five years.  Earthjustice has represented numerous conservation and Alaska Native groups in various lawsuits challenging aspects of this expansion, primarily for failure of the former Minerals Management Service to conduct adequate environmental reviews prior to holding lease sales or approving large-scale projects in the region.  We have been successful in preventing any new exploration drilling in the federal outer continental shelf for the past four years and recently won a case that remanded to the agency an environmental analysis of a massive Bush-era lease sale in the Chukchi Sea and enjoined drilling on the leases pending a new environmental analysis and decision about the lease sale.  We were also part of an effort to raise the profile of the Arctic and the threats facing the region with the Obama transition team.

It has been a privilege to work to protect the Arctic these past years.  The region is an ecological wonder that supports iconic and imperiled wildlife, including polar bears, walrus, and bowhead and beluga whales, and a thousands-year-old indigenous subsistence culture that depends on the health of the sea for its nutritional and spiritual well-being.  This wildlife and culture, already under tremendous stress from rapid climate change, has recently also been under siege from the oil industry, which is ironically increasingly interested in the region as the ice retreats, making operations  more feasible.  However, this rush to drill has occurred in the face of huge information gaps about the basic functioning of the region's ecosystem and in spite of the fact that, as the Coast Guard, NOAA and many others recognize, there is simply no way to effectively clean up a large oil spill in the region's remote, stormy, and icy waters, were one to occur.  It's great to work to try to save an important place, achieve justice for those people and critters who live there, and to work with great people doing so.  Of course, doing it all from Alaska makes it all the better."

Please Welcome PEAC's 2010-2011 Class

PEAC Class FY10-11
Back row, l-r: Marcel Gesmundo, Tara Gallagher, Amy Van Saun, Bobbie Traverso Estes, Dennis Mooney, John Krallman, Eleanor Garretson, Lizzy Zultoski. Front row, l-r: Henry LeSueur, Elizabeth Lieberknecht, Johanna Lathrop, Jessica Johnson, Jennifer O'Brien, Ashley MacKenzie, Ben Shelton, Kieran O'Donnell, Cathy Lee, Logan Hollers. Not pictured: Michael Jolliffe, Adam Lane.

Urban Environmentalism

Portland, OR
Portland, Oregon and the Willamette River. PEAC's all pro-bono work protects our natural heritage in urban areas as well as rural and wilderness areas.

When we talk about "the environment", many people's thoughts focus on settings such as the pristine landscapes in Alaska that PEAC alums are working so hard to protect (see story above). In fact, however, our actions within urban centers - where nearly 80% of Oregon's population lives - have a huge impact on our own well being, as well as that of other species. Students at Northwest Portland's Chapman Elementary School, for example, breathe air more toxic than nearly every other child in the country. And virtually every threatened and endangered salmon in the Columbia River Basin must navigate a significant hazard on its journey to its spawning grounds - namely the stretches of the Willamette and Columbia Rivers that run through the City of Portland. Such facts reveal that our urban areas do not set us apart from "the environment." At the same time, however, cities are the centers of industry and commerce, and particularly in today's troubled economic times there is tremendous pressure on governments to foster economic growth.

PEAC's urban-area work reflects the organization's increasing focus on cases that involve ongoing social debates over how to foster economic and social well-being while protecting the environment and sustaining natural systems within our cities. Even in Portland - often touted as one of the "greenest" cities in the nation - citizens and leaders often struggle over how to reconcile these goals. PEAC's work on behalf of clients engaged in this ongoing public dialog ensures that sustainability advocates have access to the best legal resources as they work to ensure that human institutions and activities also fit within nature's laws.

PEAC takes a dual approach to its urban sustainability work, both of which build the capacity of individuals and organizations in the community to seek solutions that improve the urban environment even after their engagement with PEAC ends. In some instances it is important to support clients' efforts to halt projects or practices that threaten unacceptable impacts to the environment and natural systems. In these cases PEAC uses the legal system to enforce laws designed to prevent such outcomes. On the other hand, there are increasing opportunities to work collaboratively with regulators, business interests, and environmental organizations to reconcile social goals of prosperity and convenience with the necessity to protect our natural capital. In such settings, PEAC's knowledge of the law and its experience working on challenging issues of public policy can help craft innovative sustainability solutions.

Whether litigating against a controversial project or participating in cooperative efforts to solve a chronic problem, there is often a limit to the power of convictions or even the reach of good ideas. Therefore, PEAC's ability to use the legal system when necessary, as well as draw upon its extensive experience engaging with public decision-making when presented the opportunity, gives PEAC the ability to substantially strengthen its clients' efforts to address both immediate and long-term environmental protection in urban settings.

PEAC's strategy for its urban-area work mirrors its overall strategy of providing expert, pro bono legal representation to nonprofit organizations seeking to advance urban sustainability and training talented law students to become skilled environmental advocates in their own right. Here is an overview of our cases that most impact urban areas:

PEAC has continued its tradition of using litigation to minimize the release of toxic and other harmful pollutants into the environment. For example, PEAC has brought numerous legal actions against industrial facilities that discharge pollutants via stormwater into waterways in and around Portland, including the Grabhorn Landfill, Northwest Retreaders, Inc., McDonald & Wetle, and Diversified Marine, among many others.  These cases are preventing the addition of mercury, lead, and other toxic pollutants into waters in which Portlanders regularly swim and recreate, as well as helping advance interpretations of the Clean Water Act that will lead to improvements in urban stormwater management throughout Oregon and beyond. PEAC is also using advocacy and litigation to strengthen the water quality standards-or goals-for waterbodies in Oregon, including the imperiled Willamette and Columbia Rivers in the heart of Portland's urban center. 

Over the past year, PEAC has also stepped up its involvement with urban communities located in air toxic hot spots in the Portland Metro area. PEAC is currently working with the inner Northwest Portland community to address toxic air pollution from a metal foundry, one of the oldest sources of air toxics in the neighborhood, with a community in Southeast Portland to address air toxics from a fiberglass reinforced plastic manufacturing facility, and with the inner North/Northeast Portland community in identifying and addressing a mysterious source of airborne arsenic, lead, manganese and cadmium.

PEAC has increased its involvement in government and community committees and advisory panels, where it is fighting for stronger and enforceable regulation that will prevent and reduce the release of pollutants. For too long, advisory boards at the Oregon DEQ have been dominated by industrial interests. When the fox guards the henhouse, you don't get eggs. Currently we are participating on the Industrial Stormwater Advisory Committee, which is working to rewrite Oregon's stormwater permit. The Committee was born out of our litigation against Oregon's past, and woefully inadequate, permit.  As a result of our challenge and new work on the Committee, Oregon is poised to issue one of the strongest permits of its kind in the summer of 2011. We are also participating on the Portland Air Toxics Solutions Advisory Committee (PATSAC).  In this role, we provide legal and technical input, and manage a caucus of environmental and public health organizations and private citizens, to advise Oregon DEQ on a plan to achieve health-based benchmarks for toxic air pollution in every census track in the Portland metro area by 2017.

PEAC's efforts on behalf of its clients promote integration of functional habitat and natural areas into the urban environment. Metropolitan areas represent both threats to other species and their habitat, as well as opportunities for restoration and mitigation. For example, the majority of the Northwest's imperiled salmon and steelhead runs either have crucial habitat in - or must migrate directly through - urban areas. In Gunderson et al. v. City of Portland, PEAC is representing Audubon Society of Portland to turn back an industry attack on the River Plan for the Willamette River's North Reach. The River Plan is a set of new zoning requirements and environmental mitigation requirements recently approved by the City of Portland; the City and various stakeholders worked for years to craft a balanced approach to facilitating industrial growth in Portland Harbor while recognizing that the lower portion of the Willamette River is crucial to the health of the region's signature natural resource. PEAC also recently reached a settlement, which it is now working to implement, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that will result in increased protection of salmon and steelhead habitat from urban development and sprawl, as well as improve zoning requirements within riparian areas throughout Oregon. Finally, PEAC is preparing to challenge an ill-advised proposal to dredge contaminated sediment from Portland Harbor and dispose of it on a portion of West Hayden Island that the City is considering for protection as open space - a site that is also within a few hundred meters of a low income community.

PEAC is working to promote long-term sustainable development so that new urban infrastructure does not promote sprawl, addresses run-off at the source, and builds strong communities. For example, PEAC is assisting the local opponents of a proposal by Oregon and Washington to replace the current I-5 freeway bridges over the Columbia River with a much larger mega-bridge. This proposal to address traffic congestion by building more highway capacity, which is currently going through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) evaluation process, would likely cause induced traffic and growth and lead to even greater greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, PEAC seeks to require the full disclosure of the mega-bridge's adverse impacts on urban sprawl and water quality and the consideration of much more environmentally-friendly transportation alternatives that would fit within a more sustainable regional transportation plan.