With California lawmakers seeking measures to address urgent environmental issues such as greenhouse gas pollution from vehicles and toxic chemicals in drinking water, UCLA students are contributing research and policy ideas through UCLA School of Law’s new California Environmental Legislation and Policy Clinic.
Led by Julia Stein and Jonathan Zasloff of UCLA’s Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, the clinic’s 10 students worked with elected state officials and their staffs over the course of the semester to develop solutions for several of the state’s environmental policy priorities.
“Our goal was to provide a course that exposes students to the inner workings of the California legislature — and Sacramento in general — and to the unique role attorneys can play in the lawmaking and policy process,” said Stein, who is the supervising attorney and project director.
The clinic complements the work of the Frank G. Wells Environmental Law Clinic, which for more than 25 years has trained UCLA Law students through hands-on experience working on litigation and regulatory matters on behalf of environmental and community groups. The new course provides students with practical skills and experience in researching, drafting and pursuing adoption of California environmental legislation and regulation.
In addition to the clinical courses, UCLA Law students interested in environmental law also have the opportunity to pursue an environmental law specialization, participate in the Environmental Law Society, and take courses covering a wide range of environmental law and policy issues, including energy, land use, oceans and climate law.
Throughout the California Environmental Legislation and Policy Clinic, law students had the opportunity to work directly with legislative staff on priority issues for California.
“It felt extremely rewarding to work on live issues with a live client — legislation amendments for committee consultants that may actually be implemented,” said Amanda Dworkin, a second-year law student.
As a group, the students considered how state, regional, and local governments can improve land use planning and zoning efforts to reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions. Stein and Zasloff, who is a professor of law at UCLA, led students in comprehensive research on past and present efforts to develop new policy recommendations for the state.
While the students had guidance from their professors, the clinic was designed to give students independence to explore policy solutions.
“I got to craft legislation from whole cloth, and while this was inherently challenging and overwhelming, the sky was the limit,” said Emme Tyler, a second-year law student. “It was a lot of on-the-fly learning, and every time something came up, it was on me to figure out how to solve the problem.”
Small groups in the clinic also provided research and recommendations on other California environmental issues. One team proposed legislation to address perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, a group of persistent industrial chemicals used in carpeting, firefighting foam and other materials. Another group considered strategies state agencies could employ to address the growing effects of sea-level rise. Still another team researched the state’s role in managing the transition of agricultural land fallowed under the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
To build relationships and gather feedback on their work, the students traveled to Sacramento in September to meet with legislative staff and hear from public affairs professionals involved in the policymaking process. The daylong trip involved meetings with Tina Andolina, senior policy advisor to state Sen. Ben Allen and Bill Craven, chief consultant to the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water. Students also heard about the policymaking and legislative process in a meeting with Tina Cannon Leahy, an attorney in the California State Water Resources Control Board’s office of chief counsel.
Students’ work in the clinic provides concrete experience for graduates seeking careers in environmental policy.
“A lot of the post-graduate jobs I have been applying for are policy-oriented,” said Matthew Simmons, who will graduate from the law school in 2020. “Being able to talk confidently during interviews about my work for the California legislature has been really helpful.”