Jasmine Washington graduated from the UNC School of Law in May 2021. She will begin work as an associate attorney at Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, NC this fall.
Environmental Law Project
I had the honor of serving as the President of the UNC Environmental Law Project (ELP) for the 2020-21 school year. The Environmental Law Project is an organization for UNC law school students who share an interest in the legal and political aspects of environmental issues.
Our goal is to connect students that are interested in energy and environmental law with resources, opportunities and practitioners in those areas. We do this by bringing in speakers, providing networking opportunities, as well as pro bono opportunities. Here, I will detail some of our work, and COVID-related struggles, from this past year including environmental justice panels, the recycling program, 1L student publications, and the private well water pro bono project.
Like many student organization leaders, I was unsure what ELP would look like for the 2020-21 school year. I was unsure how we would attract first year students or create the sense of community that we had on campus. We realized after our first panel in the fall that students were ready and willing to engage. Further, we quickly recognized the benefit of remote operation: we could bring in speakers from all over the country! Our first panel brought in environmentalists from Chicago, DC, eastern North Carolina, and Chapel Hill who all spoke about their work in environmental justice.
Implementing Sustainability Activities
The recycling program is one of ELP’s most notable initiatives. First year law students sign up at the beginning of the year and are assigned one room in the law school building for which they are responsible for emptying the recycling bin every week. ELP’s Sustainability Coordinator works with the law school facilities management to coordinate the program. At the end of the year, ELP is reimbursed for providing this service, and the funds are used to provide grants for students with unpaid, or low paying, environment-related legal summer internships.
With COVID restrictions, and the eventual move to all remote classes, we were unable to have our recycling program this year. However, due to the diligence of our Sustainability Coordinator, Emily Jones, we received $4,000 to fund summer grants! This year’s recipients were two first year students who have unpaid internships with the NC Public Utilities Commission and Department of Environmental Quality.
Providing Opportunities for Legal Research and Writing on Environmental Topics
ELP also provides an opportunity for first year students to publish a recent development through the annual Environmental Law Symposium. Every year, first year students can sign up to write a 10-page article to be published with the symposium at the UNC Festival of Legal Learning. Due to COVID restrictions, and a reduced festival, the Environmental Law Symposium did not take place. Instead, this year’s eight extremely hardworking first year students had their articles published through the Center for UNC Center for Climate, Energy, Environment & Economics.
Lastly, this past year several ELP members worked on a pro bono project under the supervision of Cathy Cralle Jones and Professor Maria Savasta-Kennedy addressing private well water contamination in North Carolina. We created a Q&A brochure that summarized the legal requirements and recommendations for private well water testing in North Carolina. The goal is to make this brochure available to the public, and eventually present the information to community groups and realtors across the state. We want homeowners, and future home buyers, to know their responsibilities, available resources, and the ways in which one of their most valuable assets (the home and its water supply) are and are not regulated and protected.
The legal research for private well water testing is part of the ongoing work of the NC Well Water Round Table Work Group. This group brings together researchers here at Carolina, outreach experts with the UNC Institute for the Environment, community leaders, state agency staff, and many more participants to explore issues related to public health and drinking water wells.
At the beginning of this school year, I was very nervous about what ELP would look like and what opportunities we would be able to offer. Looking back, I am proud of all that we were able to accomplish this year. I am happy and encouraged by students’ participation and ongoing passion for environmental law.