Environmental Advocacy Center

Clean air and water, clean up of hazardous waste sites, safe drinking water, green technology, climate change, and renewable energy all are issues pursued by the Northwestern University School of Law Bluhm Legal Clinic's Environmental Advocacy Center. Cases are led either by the Center or conducted in partnership with the Environmental Law and Policy Center of the Midwest (the region's premier environmental advocacy and legal organization).

Students in this Center are responsible for driving environmental solutions through a broad range of strategies: litigation, administrative proceedings, legislative and rule-making proceedings, public advocacy, and media. "We are a nontraditional Center," says director Nancy Loeb. "In environmental law, it is rare that one approach will work. Our students learn to advocate via strategic thinking, determining all the ways to frame a question and to pursue multiple forms of advocacy to accomplish our goals." Working with attorneys, scientists, economists, and legislative experts, and by participating directly on cases and in a weekly seminar, students learn to assess environmental issues and develop and implement solutions.

As citizens become more aware of environmental threats, the field of environmental law continues to grow, and the Environmental Advocacy Center must choose from a variety of potential cases to pursue. Loeb seeks out cases that have merit, that offer unparalleled opportunities for students to practice lawyering and advocacy, and that provide the chance to make a real difference, offering assistance in a way other institutions or organizations may not be able to do.

Case in Point. On a current case, Environmental Advocacy Center students are encouraging a swift and thorough hazardous waste cleanup on behalf of the residents of DePue, Illinois, a town of 1,800, located in north central Illinois. Years ago, a zinc smelter was established alongside Lake DePue. The smelter and other operations, including fertilizer manufacturing, have led to severe contamination of the lake, and most of the town. Environmental Advocacy Center students have developed advocacy strategies, gathered information, consulted with experts, and worked with enforcement agencies and the responsible companies to help the town and its residents get the hazardous wastes cleaned up.

The opportunity to tap Northwestern University expertise is a significant asset. "We enjoy the advantage of access to a wealth of abilities," says Loeb. "We've engaged assistance from several departments, including engineering and chemistry students, all working toward solutions with us. We have some of the best minds on our team, and students really value and enjoy the cross-discipline interaction."

The Environmental Advocacy Center was founded in 2009, and as it continues to grow, new opportunities emerge to find solutions, to drive change, and to protect the Midwest's natural resources and our region's residents. Looking ahead, the Center would like to extend its reach internationally, with an initial emphasis on South American environmental issues.

Environmental Advocacy Center Overview Video