Environmental Law And Justice Clinic

Founded in 1994 in consultation with community leaders, the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic serves as a training ground for the next generation of social justice advocates and provides critical legal services to underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond.

Classwork focuses on law and policy issues surrounding why environmental benefits and harms are distributed unfairly and how lawyers can effectively work to achieve justice. Outside of the classroom, students work on real-world cases, collaborating with faculty with decades of experience, to represent clients to improve the environmental conditions of where they live, work, and play. For its groundbreaking work and landmark court victories, the Clinic has been honored by the American Bar Association, US EPA, and the Clinical Legal Education Association.

Please visit our archive of documents on GGU Law’s Digital Commons. The collection includes our work on the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard.

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ELJC Latest News

ELJC Director and Clinic Students Contributed to the People’s Tribunal on Pesticides and Civil Rights Advisory Opinion

On February 15, 2024, the People’s Tribunal on Pesticides and Civil Rights issued its Advisory Opinion. Read more about the Advisory Opinion here. Caroline Farrell, Director of the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic, was one of the judges for the Tribunal and the Clinicians Ariana Salcedo, Brandon Turner, and Jessica Reardon contributed to the Advisory Opinion in collaboration with the Center on Land, Environment, and Natural Resources at UC Irvine School of Law. The Tribunal found widespread and systemic violations of the civil rights of farm working communities in California, whose residents are predominantly Latino and Indigenous.

EPA’s Proposal to Find Endangerment for Lead Emissions from Aircraft Had Its Genesis in the Clinic’s Request to EPA

On October 7, 2022, EPA proposed to make a finding that lead from certain aircraft endangers public health. If EPA ultimately makes this finding, it would be the first step to phase out lead from leaded aviation gasoline. Leaded gasoline is used in piston-engine aircraft. The clinic first asked EPA to review the issue in 2003 and filed a petition in 2006. The work was done on behalf of Friends of the Earth (formerly Bluewater Network). The clinic also sued EPA to compel EPA to respond to the petition and not to delay making an endangerment finding. Although unsuccessful, this litigation laid the partial groundwater for a later petition that ultimately was successful.

Clinic Director’s Recent Work

Professor Helen Kang, the Director of the Clinic, wrote in June 2022 about how the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout our nation could take a meaningful role in enhancing environmental justiceThe US DOJ’s recent comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy, which involves US Attorneys’ Offices, could be successful with proper planning, communication with communities most impacted by pollution, and provision of funding and expertise. The US DOJ’s recent comprehensive environmental justice enforcement strategy, which involves US Attorneys’ Offices, could be successful with proper planning, communication with communities most impacted by pollution, and provision of funding and expertise.

A group of environmental law professors, including Professor Helen Kang, the Director of the Clinic, published transcripts and analysis stemming from the Emerging Environmental Law Curriculum Workshops held at Vermont Law School in winter 2021. These workshops gather the collective knowledge of this community of environmental law professors to enhance teaching in this field to best mirror the realities of environmental law practice today. Professor Kang’s co-authored piece is on preparing law students for environmental practice.

Some Highlights of the Clinic’s Current and Recent Work

Assisting organization of a coalition of frontline environmental justice groups in the Bay Area to advocate for more protective air pollution controls in disadvantaged communities:  In December 2021, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District passed the first regulation in the entire country that sets stricter standards for pollution sources in disadvantaged communities (particularly for toxic pollution).

Representation of a low-income community of color fighting the City of Fresno’s plans to inundate the neighborhood (which has traditionally been rural) with mega-Amazon warehouses and other polluting sources: See story here.

Helping to draft and defend major environmental justice legislation (Senate Bill 499) which, if enacted, would prohibit polluting sources in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color: See the bill here.

Representation of one of our long-term clients, a neighborhood group in Bayview/Candlestick Heights, in fighting the City of San Francisco’s decision to site a project on the Candlestick State Park, the only greenspace the community has access to.  The lawsuit was filed in November 2021.

Representation of a broad coalition of environmental and fishing groups, including many coastkeeper organizations, in seeking clean water: Our clinic’s Graduate Fellow, Su Bradford, argued before the California Court of Appeal on January 18, 2022, challenging the water boards’ illegal policy in failing to implement the laws they are in charge of to stem water pollution from irrigated agriculture.

ELJC Students and Professors File an Appellate Brief Arguing that Claims for Declaratory and Mandate Relief Should Be Actionable for the Water Board’s Abdication of Duty

On August 14, 2020, the Clinic filed a brief with the Third Appellate District in the Court of Appeal in the State of California, arguing that claims alleging that the State water board violated its own regulations in issuing permits governing are actionable under state law. These permits govern more than a million acres of cropland. On behalf of a diverse coalition of clients, the Clinic documents in the brief that polluted runoff from irrigated agricultural operations harms human and ecological health in the Central Valley and Central Coast regions. The water in these regions is so polluted that some communities are under “do not drink” orders – that is, residents must purchase water for domestic uses. The brief the Clinic filed was primarily researched and drafted by GGU law students, Susann Bradford, Tanner Wright, and Brea Violette. The clients are Monterey Coastkeeper, a program of The Otter Project, California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations, Institute for Fisheries Resources, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, Orange County Coastkeeper, and Inland Empire Waterkeeper.

New Response from US EPA About the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Contamination

On April 9, 2020, EPA responded to a December 2019 letter our clinic wrote on behalf of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice. The clinic had written EPA because Greenaction remained concerned about some aspects of EPA’s review of the Navy’s proposed reevaluation of soil remedial goals for cleanup of radiological waste at the Shipyard site. In EPA’s latest letter, the agency agreed with the clinic that the retesting methods for radionuclides at the Shipyard must include appropriate detection limits. EPA also agreed with the clinic that the Navy’s publicstatement – that the remedy is protective – does not address concerns from EPA and the public about the remediation goals for the Shipyard. In response to our comments that the Navy should consider risks to future residents from eating homegrown produce from backyard gardens at planned developments at the Shipyard, EPA stated that the California Department of Toxic Substances Control intends to impose controls that’ll allow the growing of produce only if it is done in concrete-bottomed planters. Regarding our comments that the Navy’s remediation goal for radium-226 was adopted without any supporting analysis and is not protective, EPA stated that it’s deferring a decision on long-term protectiveness until the Navy has completed retesting. At that time, health risks can be assessed. EPA acknowledged that the most important consideration is whether the remediation goal for radium-226 adopted 14 years ago is protective of human health.

Clinic Director Honored with an Award

Professor Helen Kang was honored as the 2020 recipient of the Svitlana Kravchenko Environmental Rights Award from the students of Land Air Water of the University of Oregon School of Law. The award is presented to a person who exemplifies the ideals and work of Professor Kravchenko whose work was enormously successful but unfinished. The award winner is chosen from those who carry on in Professor Kravchenko’s spirit: having exquisite qualities of both head and heart; mixing academic rigor with spirited activism; and speaking truth to power, while exhibiting kindness toward all. The award winner insists that environmental rights and human rights are indivisible, as did Svitlana Kravchenko, a daughter of Ukraine who became a citizen of America and the entire world. The award is given normally at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, one of the largest gatherings of environmentalists worldwide. This year, the conference was canceled because of Coronavirus. Next year’s ceremony will, however, include Helen as well.

Victory for Communities Affected by Agricultural Pollution

On September 18, 2018, the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming in large part our trial court victory in a case of far-reaching importance to drinking water in California. The decision is the first of its kind from an appellate court to rule that permits issued to agricultural operators must demonstrate a “high likelihood” of achieving clean water standards. For over forty years, the state has taken a soft approach to regulating the powerful agricultural industry — relying primarily on education, voluntary adoption by farmers of pollution reduction measures, and encouraging farmers to do “better” if water quality doesn’t improve. This approach has clearly failed but the state was not about to comply with its own laws without this litigation.

While we think of Flint, Michigan as a faraway tragedy, our own has been brewing right here in the richest state in the richest country in the world: drinking water is seriously degraded as 360,000 tons of nitrates leach into California groundwater annually and nearly 200 million pounds of pesticides are applied to California farms. Hundreds of thousands of residents, mostly Latinos, lack safe drinking water; by 2050, 80 percent of residents in certain rural areas are expected to have no access to safe drinking water, except through purchasing bottled water.

Over the last six years that our clinic has been representing a broad coalition of environmental justice, conservation, and fishing groups with co-counsel, numerous students spent hours drafting briefs and poring through technical documents. In this last round, Tyler Sullivan, then in his third semester of the clinic, worked on the appellate brief. The clinic’s clients included Ms. Anonia Manzo, an elderly resident of a farming community whose tap water is too contaminated to drink, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Monterey Coastkeeper, California Sportsfishing Protection Alliance, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Association, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper.

Sworn Declarations of Whistleblowers Obtained by Clinic Students Lead to Reexamination of Radiological Cleanup

After the Clinic filed a petition on behalf of Greenaction for Health & Environmental Justice with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and pushed the Navy for acknowledgment of widespread fraud that casts serious doubt on the integrity of the Hunters Point Shipyard cleanup, the Navy finally agrees with us: the radioactive contamination is much worse than the Navy claimed and widespread resampling will have to be done to determine its full extent. This acknowledgment never would have come without dogged work by Professor Steve Castleman of our Clinic and our students. Read the story in the Chronicle. Professor Castleman says in the article, “Some of the alleged fraud by Tetra Tech was uncovered by students at Golden Gate University’s Environmental Law and Justice Clinic. Attorney Steven Castleman, who worked with the students, said it was ironic that a handful of law students was able to discover irregularities in one semester that the Navy didn’t see in three years since the first Tetra Tech whistle-blowers came forwarded with allegations in 2014.” Watch NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit’s coverage mentioning Anthony Smith’s declaration, which was drafted by our students under faculty supervision.

ELJC’s Professor Helen Kang featured in the Clinical Law Prof Blog

The Clinical Law Prof Blog chose to interview Professor Kang for this semester’s edition of their 5 Questions feature. In the interview which you can read in full here Kang speaks, among other things, about the work and achievements of the ELJC.

ELJC Wins California Supreme Court Case and, as Amicus Counsel, Provides a Winning Argument in a Related Case

The California Supreme Court ruled in July in favor of the Clinic’s client, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, in a landmark case holding that federal law governing railroad transportation does not preempt a public agency’s obligations under the California Environmental Quality Act. This victory is the culmination of over five years of work by clinic students and staff in conjunction with co-counsel, including private attorneys and the Stanford Environmental Clinic. Professor Helen Kang argued the case with another lawyer representing a separate petitioner, Friends of the Eel River, under whose name the case was published. See Friends of the Eel River v. North Coast Railroad Authority, No. 222472 (Cal. Jul. 27, 2017). Last semester’s clinic students, led by Matthew Tyler Sullivan, assisted Professor Kang in refining her oral arguments by acting as “justices” in a moot court. Numerous students, including Nico Smith, Shanda Fisher, and Catherine Dickstein, to name just a few, worked on the case.

In another case, the Clinic served as counsel for Center for Biological Diversity to provide a friend-of-the-court brief, arguing that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to hear a challenge to a declaratory order from a federal agency, the Surface Transportation Board. But for its lack of jurisdiction, the court was poised to decide the very same legal issue presented in the California Supreme Court case. Our brief, drafted with the Stanford Environmental Clinic, was the only brief that raised the jurisdiction issue.

Three Reasons You should Take the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic

Sara Dudley

— Sara Dudley, Class of 2015
1. Receive mentoring and support:

Clinic Professors and Fellows took a genuine interest in me, my career, and my Clinic experience. I continue to rely on their help and advice as I advance in my career.

2. Gain real-world experience:

In a functioning litigation Clinic, you will work on pending matters and practice before courts and government agencies. These are skills and experiences that I have highlighted to potential employers in my resume and cover letters.

3. Work on issues that matter:

Environmental justice means working on critical environmental issues and also representing disadvantaged communities who would not otherwise have access to justice. It’s a unique opportunity to practice both civil rights and environmental law.


Cody Nesper


Deputy County Counsel, Tuolumne County

“In addition to learning valuable legal skills, my time working at the Environmental Law and Justice Clinic taught me the positive impact legal work can have on the community and fostered my commitment to serving the most vulnerable among us. In my current position representing Child Welfare Services in Tuolumne County, the compassion and thoughtfulness engendered within me during my time at the Clinic has informed my practice every day. I know that my work is not just about winning an argument in court; it is about positively impacting the lives of human beings who desperately need help.”

Angelica Torres


Staff Attorney, Homeless Action Center

“I grew up in Richmond, California, a community that is home to several major polluters, which have adversely affected the residents’ health and safety (including my own as a child). I wanted to join the Clinic to help to provide a voice to the communities that are affected by such issues. The Clinic provides a very challenging yet supportive work environment for students to hone legal skills and get practical and hands-on experience before taking on an internship or job with an outside employer. I am forever grateful for the Clinic and the attentive staff for their huge part in giving me the skills I needed to be the attorney I am today.”