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Turner Environmental Law Clinic

Work

Initiatives

The Turner Environmental Law Clinic was founded in 1998 through a generous grant from the Turner Foundation. Over the years, the Clinic has grown in size, sophistication, and impact, while staying true to its original goals of protecting our planet today, while training the leaders of tomorrow.

The Clinic has garnered national recognition for its expertise in three focus areas: clean and sustainable energy; regenerative agriculture and urban farming; and natural resource protection.

Clean and Sustainable Energy

We are, in writer Jeremy Leggett’s words, squarely in the middle of the greatest energy transition in history. The Turner Environmental Law Clinic has long been committed to ensuring this transition is successful. We have challenged plans to construct “dirty” power plants, drafted model ordinances to encourage renewable energy, assessed state law barriers to addressing climate change, analyzed the energy efficiency planning process in the southeast, and helped the City of Atlanta achieve its energy goals.

Recently, the Clinic – together with incredible partners, co-counsel, and clients – has:

  • On behalf of Beyond Nuclear, challenged proposals to put up to 210,000 tons of high level nuclear waste at two sites in the Permian Basin, along the Texas-New Mexico border. The above-ground facilities – which would be the world’s largest – would sit in low-income, minority communities, already suffering from other environmental harms. The challenge is ongoing before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
  • In partnership with experts from Georgia Tech and University of Georgia, published the Georgia Model Solar Ordinance, a comprehensive land use ordinance to ensure smart development of solar power across Georgia.
  • In partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Counsel and others, successfully challenged the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Waste Confidence Decision before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, forcing the agency to halt nuclear power licensing for two years while it considered the environmental and safety impacts of nuclear waste storage.
  • Published a report assessing barriers to carbon allowance trading in eight southeastern states. The report, Mass-Based Clean Power Plan Compliance: State Law Impacts on Allowance Trading Programs in Eight Southeaster States, was presented by Clinic students at the 22ndannual Conference of the Parties (COP22) held under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Marrakech, Morocco.
  • On behalf of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, successfully litigated several Freedom of Information Act claims, forcing the Department of Energy to release thousands of pages of documents regarding the $12 billion loan guarantees for Plant Vogtle, giving Congress, the media, and members of the public the information they need to assess the terms and conditions of the loans.
Regenerative Agriculture and Urban Farming

The food system encompasses the supply chain in which food is grown, processed, distributed, marketed, retailed, and consumed, and the many inputs it consumes, outputs it creates, and people it employs. The prevailing food system contains components that harm the environment, negatively affect human health, and contribute to economic inequality. According to Paul Hawken’s Drawdown, “what we eat turns out to be the number one cause of global warming.” A strong, resilient, and equitable food system can begin to address many of these harms.

We’re honored that the Clinic’s work to improve our food system – including revising cities’ zoning ordinances to promote urban agriculture, bringing local food into public school cafeterias, protecting pollinators, discouraging pesticide use, ensuring implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act safeguards small and midsize farms across the country, and decreasing barriers to land access for beginning and minority famers – has received national attention and was featured in the University of California’s Global Food Initiative report, Food Equity, Social Justice, and the Role of Law Schools: A Call to Action.

Recently, the Clinic – together with incredible partners, co-counsel, and clients – has:

  • Served as outside counsel to the Conservation Fund, developing and implementing a first-of-its-kind project to conserve agricultural land, decrease barriers to land access for beginning, young, and minority farmers, and build a robust, equitable local food system in metro-Atlanta.
  • Together with Georgia Organics and the Atlanta Local Food Initiative, assisted the City of Atlanta in passing a zoning amendment that makes Atlanta one of the most permissive cities of urban agriculture practices in the country. And, based on that model, assisted cities and counties around Georgia and across the United States to revise their zoning ordinances to promote urban agriculture.
  • On behalf of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, prepared comments that convinced the Food and Drug Administration to issue a regulation governing the growing and harvesting of produce that protects public health, while also protecting small farmers and the environment.
  • Partnered with Friends of the Earth to publish several national reports on pesticide contamination on food and plants including Toxic Secret (a report on the presence of pesticide residues in foods commonly eaten by children and families) and Gardeners Beware (a report on the use of bee-toxic pesticides on plants sold in garden centers across the country and labeled as “bee-friendly”).  
  • Partnered with Food Well Alliance and the City of Atlanta to assess and help remove legal barriers to small-scale, large-scale, and commercial composting in Georgia.
  • Worked closely with Emory’s Office of Sustainability Initiatives to ban neonicotinoids from Emory’s campus, contract with local farmers to purchase food, and administer an on-campus farmers market.
  • Partnered with Atlanta Farm-to-School, Captain Planet Foundation, and Georgia Organics to develop a comprehensive farm-to-school proposal for Atlanta Public Schools.
  • Answered farmers' legal questions on numerous issues, including stormwater management, zoning, leasing, food safety, and soil testing.
  • Published a sixteen-city survey of urban agriculture practices across the country.
Natural Resources

At the heart of any public interest environmental law organization’s mission is protecting and restoring our natural environment. The Turner Environmental Law Clinic is dedicated to filling gaps left by other incredible organizations to ensure our environment is protected, and we are ready to jump in where we’re needed – from challenging laws that fail to protect our natural resources to defending public lands across our country.

Recently, the Clinic – together with incredible partners, co-counsel, and clients – has:

  • In partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council, forced the U.S. Department of Interior to make public critical information about its Freedom of Information Act practices. Based, in part, on the information released, DOI’s FOIA practices have now prompted an Inspector General investigation.
  • On behalf of three Riverkeeper organizations, filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in the tri-state water wars case, Florida v. Georgia, highlighting important conservation issues. The brief was cited by the Court in its opinion.
  • Together with Southern Environmental Law Center and Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, developed legal strategies for addressing coal ash pollution in Georgia.
  • Under the leadership of the Emmet Environmental Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School, and together with many other environmental law clinics across the country, filed comments on EPA’s proposed regulation, Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science.
  • In partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council to prepared a report for Congress that highlights the incredible outcomes the National Environmental Policy Act has helped achieve and the disasters it has helped avoid.
  • Answered various legal questions related to conservation easements for The Nature Conservancy.