The Goldman Sonnenfeldt Environmental Protection Clinic works on a wide range of issues in the environmental law and policy space. Click on the project descriptions below to find out more about what we do.

Read more about past projects in our archive.

New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) is one of the most ambitious pieces of climate legislation in the country. Its goal is to reduce emissions and create green jobs by installing solar panels, maintaining wind turbines, and retrofitting buildings. The Act also mandates that at least 40 percent of clean energy investments must go to “disadvantaged” communities in New York who have historically shouldered disproportionate environmental burdens and are hit first and worst by the ongoing climate and COVID-19 crisis.  UPROSE is a grassroots environmental justice organization based in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, working to implement the CLCPA and ensure a Just Transition in Sunset Park.  EPC is providing policy analysis and other technical support to implement UPROSE's vision of scalable and replicable community-led models and to operationalize the GRID plan which will bring green jobs and climate resilient infrastructure to the neighborhood’s waterfront. 

For several years, EPC has partnered with Our Children’s Trust, a non-profit public interest law firm, in its landmark atmospheric trust litigation brought on behalf of youth plaintiffs and future generations. The litigation is based on both constitutional and public trust principles, and challenges the federal government’s support of the fossil fuel energy system and the aggregate actions that make up that system and cause climate change.

Climate change is not just a threat to the environment – it is also a threat to the financial system, including the banks and other financial institutions that serve as critical intermediaries providing communities with access to credit and financial services. Smaller banks, such as community or mission-driven banks, face particularly severe challenges, since they have fewer resources and their loan portfolios may be more concentrated and thus more exposed to risk from hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, or the transition away from fossil fuels. Particularly for low income communities and communities of color, certain climate risk management practices may also interfere with these banks’ missions of equitably serving their communities. EPC students are working with NRDC to identify strategies to enable community banks and other smaller banks to contend with climate change’s economic risk while staying true to their missions.

Deforestation and forest degradation are significant drivers of both the climate and biodiversity crises. Although the international community has largely focused on deforestation in the tropics, the clearcutting of forests in the Global North is a coequal threat. Canada has been at the forefront of international efforts to deflect attention away from the impacts of industrial logging, including by opposing legislation that would, for the first time, hold Global North countries accountable for impacts to climate- and biodiversity-critical forests and for violations of Indigenous rights. EPC students are working with NRDC to develop strategies to hold Canada accountable for its role in stymying global progress on forest protection.

Environmental justice is receiving unprecedented attention and action from the Biden Administration, including through Executive Orders, legislation such as the bipartisan infrastructure law and the Inflation Reduction Act, and federal appropriations. However, many communities still lack the resources to address complex, interrelated challenges related to environmental justice, public health, and economic well-being. EPC is collaborating with the Elevate Policy Lab of the Yale School of Medicine to develop and implement innovative practice-to-policy, place-based approaches to environmental justice. Co-created with community champions, these approaches empower communities to effectively engage in decision-making processes, secure resources, and develop interventions based on their lived experience regarding challenges and solutions. As proof of concept, EPC and Elevate are supporting community-led efforts in Bridgeport, Connecticut to transform an abandoned municipal landfill in a community of color and low wealth into a hydroponic farm, wellness campus, and learning center.

To inform the application of these environmental justice approaches in other communities facing similar environmental, health and economic challenges, listed below are several instructional resources that detail the approaches and support available: 

EPC is partnering with Kanji & Katzen, one of the premier firms protecting the sovereignty and vitality of Indian nations and their members, to help advocate for indigenous rights. EPC students are working with attorneys at Kanji & Katzen in their efforts to prevent pipeline development on Tribal lands, among other issues.

Reliable access to clean, affordable water is essential to human well-being. Unaffordable water bills can lead to severe consequences, including the loss of water access due to shutoffs and burgeoning water debt – harms that are disproportionately borne by low-income households of color. However, most water and wastewater utilities in the United States are not required to report data related to water affordability, such as information on rates and bills, shutoffs, or debt. The lack of reliable data poses a major challenge for water affordability advocates seeking to convince regulators and utilities to change harmful policies. With the passage of the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in 2021, Illinois became one of the first states in the nation to require reporting of data on water shutoffs and debt at the zip code level. In partnership with NRDC, EPC students are analyzing these newly available data to better understand challenges and develop advocacy opportunities related to water affordability in Illinois.

Ocean-based carbon dioxide removal technologies and geoengineering techniques are emerging as a new frontier in the global effort to mitigate climate change. These methods, such as ocean alkalinization, macroalgae cultivation, and cloud brightening, aim to artificially enhance the ocean’s capacity to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and/or manage heat in the ocean. While these technologies could enhance the ocean’s capacity to store carbon, they have the potential to cause harm to ocean animals and marine ecosystems, and there are limited policy frameworks for regulating them. In partnership with NRDC, EPC is investigating the developmental states of these technologies and the kinds of regulatory frameworks that may help manage their development.