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New York, Sept. 7, 2011—Columbia Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic has filed a lawsuit in response to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s (“DRBC”) proposed guidelines for natural gas well development in the Delaware River Basin.
The suit alleges that both the DRBC and the Army Corps of Engineers—the federal member of the DRBC—violated the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) by failing to assess environmental impacts prior to issuing draft regulations governing the extraction of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). Representing the National Parks Conservation Association (“NPCA”) in the matter, Columbia Environmental Law Clinic students will work on all phases of litigation, including discovery and brief-writing.
The clinic—which handles a wide range of environmental law matters including clean air, clean water, endangered species, environmental justice, “smart growth,” and wetlands preservation—immerses students in environmental law and provides them with real-life legal experience, such as motion practice, research projects and negotiations.
“Clinical experience gives people an opportunity to work with a client and to see what it is the practice of law involves [while being under] very careful supervision. Students get to see what it is to be a lawyer,” said Susan Kraham ’92, Senior Staff Attorney and Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic.
The clinic exposes students to high-profile environmental law cases and connects them with major environmental organizations, such as the NPCA, which sought the clinic’s representation and assistance in coordinating representation with a group of river keepers and nonprofits in the Delaware River Basin case. “Columbia is a great law school, and we are anxious to establish an ongoing working relationship,” said Libby Fayad, Vice President and General Counsel of the NPCA.
At the center of the Delaware River Basin suit are the DRBC’s draft guidelines regarding natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale, which is located thousands of feet underneath the Delaware River Basin. Extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale will entail a dual process of horizontal drilling and fracking—a procedure that releases gas by pumping millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand down a well at high pressure. Prior to issuing regulations regarding such extraction, neither the DRBC nor the Army Corps complied with NEPA’s requirements that federal agencies analyze the environmental impact prior to the commencement of any major project and release an Environmental Impact Statement describing the effects said project may have. Plaintiffs assert that the DRBC and the Army Corps are in violation of NEPA and should be required to complete an environmental impact analysis.
Among the concerns in the Delaware River Basin suit are depletion and contamination of water, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, damage to ecosystems and wildlife, harm to commercial and recreational activities, and land alteration.
“In our Complaint, we have alleged that by issuing these regulations without first doing the environmental analysis required under NEPA, the DRBC has violated the law. The Army Corps has also violated NEPA by approving the proposed rules without the required analysis,” said Kraham. “It is our view that we shouldn’t engage in this new rule-making program unless and until we are very sure that we understand the potential impacts and that we have taken whatever action is necessary to reduce those impacts and to mitigate for those impacts if they can’t be avoided.”
One of the clinic’s next steps is to respond to defendants’ motion to dismiss, which students will tackle this upcoming semester. This fall, in addition to working on the Delaware River Basin suit, clinic students will work on a simulated Clean Water Act litigation, cases arising under the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, and a number of other matters.
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