Every week, Michaela Morris ’24 checks her Google alerts for certain key phrases: “National Petroleum Preserve”, “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” and “Oil Leases”, among others. Next, she searches the Federal Register for any regulatory action on topics such as offshore drilling. To make sure she hasn’t missed anything, she’ll also log on to the websites of agencies that administer these regulations, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
If she finds anything, Morris, a research assistant in Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program (EELP), will write a short summary, synthesizing the new information, and enter it into the program regulatory tracker: an invaluable resource for journalists, policymakers, advocates and legislators – and a learning tool that gives its first-year law students hands-on experience in the real-world application of energy and environmental regulations.
The regulatory tracker was designed to rely heavily on student work, says Hannah Perls’ 20, an EELP staff attorney who helps administer the interactive tool. Frequently referenced by reporters from The New York Times to The Guardian, The tracker provides a sort of one-stop shop for everyone from activists to lawmakers and the general public to follow the regulatory process, with summaries of new rules and information on comment periods. “Students help us keep tabs on what’s happening, whether it’s a new administrative action or a litigation update or a new policy or advice,” said said Perls.
The tracker began in 2018 under former program executive director (and current EPA Air and Radiation Bureau nominee) Joseph Goffman more as a “deregulatory” tracker in reaction to what the program considered the dismantling of climate protections by the Trump administration. “The idea was to have this very detailed record of all the ways the Trump administration was rolling back key environmental rules so that if we ever had a new administration there would be a playbook for what needed to be fixed. “, recalls Perls. In addition, she pointed out, the tracker also provided “a record of the regulatory tools the Trump administration has used to deregulate,” providing a roadmap for eventual rebuilding.
James B. Pollack ’20 worked with the regulation tracker in those early days. “I went to law school not knowing I wanted to do environmental law,” said Pollack, who is currently a partner at Marten Law, a leading environmental and environmental law firm. country’s energy. “It was during this time that I could see not only the importance of environmental law in the development of these regulations, but also the role that environmental lawyers had in preventing these from taking place. regulations.
“It became a really amazing part of my experience to be able to document all these changes that the administration was making and to learn about all the different corners of environmental law that were being changed,” he said. declared.
Since the arrival of the Biden administration, the focus on the tracker has changed somewhat, but work continues.
“Recently, a lot of my work has been following social cost of carbon litigation,” said Christopher “Kipper” Berven ’24, who also focuses on pipelines and SEC actions on carbon risk disclosure. climate.
The time commitment to track these developments “certainly varies from week to week,” Berven said. While Morris typically records two to three hours some weeks, Berven put in as many as 10 or 12 hours – or none at all. “This week we have a big writing assignment for our legal research and writing class,” he said. Faculty and staff in the Environmental and Energy Law program “understand very well that we are going to have to focus on that”.
This flexibility, Perls said, is part of the design of the regulatory tracker. “First-year law students have a very heavy course load,” she says. “The tracker is an excellent way for them to familiarize themselves with current environmental issues, as well as with administrative and litigation processes. We also strive to ensure that each student receives iterative and individual feedback on their legal research and writing so that they feel confident going into their summer internships knowing they have the skills they need. to have an impact.
Morris, who grew up working as a lifeguard in Hampton, New Hampshire, was already a climate change activist, in part because of personal experience.
“One of my last summers I was a caretaker at Southbury Beach, and we had much warmer water than usual,” she recalls. “That same summer we had a ton of seals stranded in an unusual mortality event. The Marine Mammal Rescue Patrol said it was likely the mortalities were linked to changes in ocean acidity and temperature or possibly a strain of bacteria or virus that was now in waters due to environmental changes.
Working with the tracker, she explained, expanded her range of tools. “This position allowed me to familiarize myself with specific legal and technical terms related to energy and the environment,” she said.
“I came to Harvard Law School to study environmental law,” Berven said. Growing up in San Francisco, “one of my great passions is camping, hiking, and being on public land,” postponing law school for a year due to COVID, he was able to complete environmental internships at distance with the Environmental Policy Innovation Center and with 350 .org.
“I studied environmental science and environmental economics as an undergraduate and didn’t really have a strong legal background before coming to HLS,” Berven said. “I came in assuming the law was very black and white. It taught me to dig a little deeper.
That, says Perls, is the point. “We want students to gain the experience of navigating litigation and be able to extract from these voluminous documents what is important, and then learn how to summarize that in easy-to-understand terminology.” These tasks integrate “a whole series of skills”, she added. “They learn how to navigate the Federal Register and read a filing, and they understand what developing notice and comment rules means and why it’s important. Our hope is that they come away with a real appreciation of the scope of environmental regulation.
Noting how theoretical and broad most first-year courses are, Berven said, “Just engaging with the law and engaging with regulations on that personal level takes those concepts that we’re learning and makes them real.”
For Pollack, who teaches environmental law at Brandeis University, the tracker has become a useful tool. “When I teach the Clean Air Act, I teach cases that have come out over the past two years and provide context for current conflicts,” he said.
This year’s regulatory trackers are already seeing the impact of the work on their own future. “Most of my experience before law school was in policy advocacy,” Morris said. “This experience really showed me how organization and litigation can work in tandem. There is a direct link between the work that people are able to do as organizers and the importance of having other people able to defend that in court.
While Berven credits the “broad perspective” on the field of legal career that this job gave him, Morris found specific benefits. “Litigation requires writing and research abilities that come naturally to me, and that may be a direction I’d like to pursue,” she said. “Working as a regulatory tracker has broadened my horizons as I think about ways I can use my environmental legal skills.”