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Environmental Law Clinic 2021 Highlights

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Sturm College of Law

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ELC students and client

Gary Wockner, a client working with DU's Environmental Law Clinic, discusses the impacts of dams and diversions from the headwaters of the Colorado River with ELC students.

The Environmental Law Clinic at the Sturm College of Law has celebrated several victories on behalf of our clients in 2021. The clinic represented the Center for Biological Diversity in a challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s approval of Colorado’s smog plan under the Clean Air Act. Clinic students prepared and filed a brief in the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging the EPA’s failure to ensure Colorado pollution wouldn’t foul the air in downwind states or to ensure that Colorado takes action to address air pollution from agriculture. After reviewing our brief, the EPA agreed to settle the case and take another look at the issue. In another case, the clinic represented the Animal Legal Defense Fund in a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act. The clinic was able to reach a settlement in this case as well, obtaining information from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regarding their actions to kill large numbers of Canada geese at Washington Park in Denver.

ELC students
Students in Denver Law's Environmental Law Clinic gather for the 2021 clinic orientation.

However, as all public interest environmental lawyers know, victories are temporary and defeats are permanent. Facing an uphill battle in years-long litigation challenging a new dam and diversion of water from the Colorado River across the continental divide for use on the Front Range in Colorado, the clinic helped the coalition of conservation groups it was representing to settle the case. Although the settlement allowed the project to go forward, it did create a $15 million fund dedicated to mitigating some of the impacts of the project in Grand County, Colorado. The fund will have significant oversight by local community members to determine how the money is spent. This development comes at a challenging time for the Colorado River, as federal water managers for the first time in history imposed cutbacks on water usage in Arizona and New Mexico, due to the low levels of water currently in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Experts predict the water shortages in the region will only get more extreme as climate change continues largely unabated.

All of these projects, and more, continued to provide excellent vehicles for clinic students to get hands-on experience in research, writing, court procedures, client representation and negotiation.

Lastly, the Environmental Law Clinic was very proud to see former Clinical Fellow Sarah Matsumoto move on to bigger and better opportunities, starting up a new environmental justice clinic at Willamette University College of Law.

ELC Faculty Highlights

Assistant Professor Wyatt Sassman


  • Community Empowerment in Decarbonization: NEPA’s Role, 96 Wash. L. Rev. __ (2021) (forthcoming).