My Summer Law Clerkship at CSE

My experience with CSE’s law clerkship program was thoroughly educational and rewarding. My main goals going into this summer were to  (1) understand the basics of the local environmental law landscape  through experience working in a legal setting (2) network and meet the different local actors relevant to doing that work and (3) practice a healthy work/life balance in the context of a legal career. Reflecting on the past three months, I feel confident that I’ve progressed  significantly in each of these areas. I am extremely grateful to my attorney mentor, the CSE Staff Attorney, Nicholas Caleb (Nick) for fostering that experience for me, and to other members of the CSE staff as well.

The clerkship familiarized me with the basics of the environmental law landscape in Portland and in Oregon through the research projects that I was able to work on. One project consisted of analyzing the public comments on the City’s website that folks had submitted about Ted Wheeler’s Climate Emergency Declaration. I also compiled different state agency’s protocols for public document requests, for CSE’s potential future use in submitting requests for their responses to Kate Brown’s Climate Executive Order. I completed the foundational research of a Petition for DEQ Rulemaking to Regulate Mega-Dairy Air Emissions, and also researched what states have denied Confined Animal Feeding
Operation (CAFO) permits and for what reasons. I did a lot of reading as well, from researching Corporate Farm Laws to the general trends of litigation that the Oregon Attorney General engages with.

I was also encouraged to take on both legal and creative writing projects. I wrote up an introductory statement for our Climate Executive Order accountability team’s letter to the public, analyzing different state agencies’ reports. I also wrote up a brief framework for different policy considerations surrounding agriculture in a potential Green New Deal, compiling some different organizations, research, and articles about each one. I then wrote up the beginning of a brief on local and state governments’ civil suits against fossil fuel corporations and a public comment to the DEQ about why a newly proposed Klamath CAFO’spermit should be denied. CSE even encouraged me to write an Op Ed for work about my experience with the Anti-Police and Black Lives Matter uprising, which I was lucky to have published.

I was able to engage in extremely exciting networking opportunities with local environmental law actors as well. Starting my first week at CSE, I was able to attend at least a few Zoom meetings each week, with different coalitions and working groups for the projects that CSE is engaged in. I was even able to facilitate a few of them. I attended Fossil Fuel Partners meetings,  Fossil Fuel Risk Bond Team meetings, CSE Staff meetings, CSE Law Clerk Check-In meetings, OR Climate Executive Order Coalition meetings, and Portland Climate Emergency Declaration meetings. My clerkship also allowed me to develop and pursue an independent project surrounding CAFOs in Oregon. This created some excellent networking opportunities and allowed me to link up with different actors who are trying to form a coalition against their further expansion. I also got a great feel for public speaking and sharing research, which are additional essential skill sets for engaging with other legal actors in the field. One example is that I made a statement on behalf of our organization at the DEQ’s public comment hearing about the new Zenith Air Permit.

Tanks at the CEI hub. Photo by Aaron Lee. 

I also researched and developed a presentation on land use laws and history in Oregon in order to brief the CSE team on the basics of rural-centered environmental policy in the state.

Lastly, I feel that I gained practice establishing a healthy work/life balance for myself in the context of a legal career. This summer was historic, given the COVID-19 pandemic and Anti-Police and Black Lives Matter uprisings across the world. At times it was difficult to ensure that I had the mental, emotional, and physical capacity to show up in the ways that I personally felt driven to, while also showing up for the practice of my clerkship. Nick and other members of the CSE staff cultivated a supportive atmosphere which allowed me to accomplish both goals. I can’t thank these folks* enough for their dedication to this important work and to their vision of a healthier and more just tomorrow.

*Josie’s legal clerkship and the other clerkship, intern and fellowship positions in the summer of 2020 were funded with the generous support of the 11th Hour Foundation.

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