New Director, Same Diversity on the Docket and Same Commitment to Environmental Justice
This school year, the Environmental Advocacy Center (EAC) is exemplifying that old adage: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” In 2022, founding director of the EAC, Nancy Loeb, retired. Before Professor’s Loeb’s well-earned ride into the sunset – or sail into the fjords, as it were – she helped select her successor, Clinical Associate Professor of Law Rob Weinstock. Professor Weinstock joins the Bluhm Legal Clinic from just across town, after having taught and practiced at the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. Serendipitously, Professor Weinstock rejoins his former student at the University of Chicago – EAC’s stellar legal fellow, Leah Song – in carrying the EAC into its next phase.
Beyond an abiding admiration for Professor Loeb, Professor Weinstock brings to the EAC a shared passion for utilizing a diversity of advocacy strategies to tackle complex environmental and energy problems for clients too often both left out of decision-making spaces and left to bear disproportionate burdens by decisionmakers. There is no change in the EAC’s commitment to environmental justice and to tackling hard problems in our hometown.
There is also no change to the EAC’s capacious view of what counts as “environmental law,” and its flexible approach to advocacy, always seeking to identify the right strategy for the situation. With his mix of significant private practice and public interest experience, Professor Weinstock approaches leading the EAC with a broad view of environmental and energy law, in terms of both substantive law and lawyering skills. Environmental attorneys can be called on to deploy nearly every tool in the legal toolbox – from litigation to counseling and dealmaking, from crafting common law claims to disentangling Byzantine statutory and regulatory requirements – and must be comfortable in every type of forum – be it courts, agencies, legislatures, or the public forum. The EAC designs its docket to train students to be just the sort of dynamic and multifaceted environmental lawyer who can succeed in any setting.
With a new director, the EAC continues to offer its students a wide range of learning opportunities by placing them in-role as junior advocates on legal teams confronting cutting edge issues in energy law, enforcing complex environmental regulations, and advancing novel approaches at the intersection of civil rights and environmental law, among other projects.
For example: The EAC has a long and deep partnership with community organizations on Chicago’s Southeast Side. The centerpiece of that work is the EAC’s ongoing representation of the Southeast Environmental Task Force in fighting the proposed relocation of the General Iron scrap metal shredding facility to its community. SETF secured a major victory in early 2022, when the city denied a final operating permit to the proposed facility in a decision that reflected many points raised in EAC’s written comments. Since then, EAC students have been deeply involved in representing SETF in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s review of a civil rights complaint the EAC filed in 2020. In July of this year HUD made an initial finding agreeing with SETF’s complaint and EAC students have helped navigate the complex regulatory process that has followed, engaging in delicate discussions with agency decision-makers, and working closely with co-counsel and our client to craft nuanced positions and articulate them to both legal and public audiences.
This fall, the EAC has begun representing the Respiratory Health Association in its efforts to accelerate the transition away from dirty diesel engines idling in Illinois communities. Specifically, RHA is a party to “beneficial electrification” proceedings in which the Illinois Commerce Commission is considering whether to approve plans of electric utilities to meet the electrification goals of the landmark Clean and Equitable Jobs Act. The EAC represents RHA s an independent party but is working in a coalition of organizations including the Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, to push for beneficial electrification plans that maximize public health and climate benefits while centering equity concerns. EAC students respond to discovery requests, develop expert witness testimony, draft sections of briefs, and counsel clients on some of the hottest issues in energy law.
Continuing Professor’s Weinstock’s representation of Sierra Club and Friends of the Chicago River, EAC students are litigating a Clean Water Act enforcement action against Trump Tower in downtown Chicago. Trump Tower was built to withdraw up to over 20 million gallons of Chicago River water daily; Trump Tower was built without seeking the required federal permit for that withdrawal or even assessing its potential environmental impacts. EAC students have worked this semester with technical experts and clients to assess possible technical requirements for Trump Tower and directly led related conversations with the defendant and the state agencies. EAC students are also supporting ongoing fact depositions and — we hope — may even conduct depositions themselves.
Like it always has, the EAC puts its students at the center of some of the most crucial environmental and energy controversies in Chicago and beyond. We are fighting in court to protect our reborn Chicago River downtown and fighting at city, state, and federal agencies to protect communities on the Southeast Side from environmental health threats old and new.
As our society faces the existential threat of climate change and the irascible stain of persistent and pernicious environmental inequities, the need for brilliant, creative, diligent, and empathetic environmental advocates is limitless. Fortunately, Northwestern law students never cease to bring those qualities into the Blum Legal Clinic. The EAC is proud to connect those superlative students to the cases and clients that maximize both their social impact and educational growth.