At the UNC School of Law, the Environmental Law Project is a space for students to not only explore but also collaborate in environmental law fields.
Rachel Coutinho, treasurer of the ELP, said that the project aims to perform three tasks: provide a social platform for law students, offer community service opportunities and mentor others involved with environmental law.
“The core of what we do is giving people the knowledge of what this field looks like, giving them the resources they need to pursue it further,” she said.
President Caitlin Sarpal said that the organization offers various activities such as hosting guest speakers and finding environmental law job opportunities. Furthermore, the ELP includes a research symposium, pro bono projects and a recycling program.
Communications Director Chloe Picchio said that taking on pro bono projects, both for the ELP and for the law school, lets her make a real difference. Occurring usually under the supervision of another attorney or professor, Picchio said that engaging in pro bono work allows students to work through any hesitations and potential issues which may come up during later legal work.
For Sarpal, environmental law is something that affects every single part of a person’s day, including in areas such as food safety, air quality and public transportation.
“I think there's so many different areas of the legal world and all of them are important for their own sake," she said. "I do think environmental law, in particular, really affects people's day-to-day lives, maybe more than we realize.”
While Coutinho said that many people believe environmental law focuses on just 'going green,' she believes it is much more. Essentially, she said, environmental law helps find compromises between industrialism and environmentalism.
“It's about finding solutions, to bridge the fact that we acknowledge that we still need to have corporations creating value for society,” she said.
One of ELP’s main goals this semester is to help current environmental law students find research and internship opportunities.
Sarpal said that the formerly-held research symposium gave an opportunity to work with professors, to engage in research and to have upperclassmen guide younger students through the process of conducting and writing research.
She added that along with the symposium, ELP also has a history of aiding in the writing process for student papers. First-year law students, colloquially known as 1Ls, often sign up to write a paper under the mentorship of ELP advisors or other professors.
There are several environmental law advisory professors who are involved with ELP. Coutinho said that, after the West Virginia v. EPA ruling in 2022, the law school held a professors' debate among law firms and ELP's environmental law professor advisors. Through opportunities like these, Coutinho said that students were able to expand their mindset.
“We had students who were kind of on both sides trying to learn but also had their own opinions and had their own stakes in the matter,” she said.
The ELP has been making improvements regarding conservation efforts as well, specifically through the ELP Recycling Program. While items may not be recycled correctly, members of the program have been sorting through trash at the School of Law to relieve the burden from staff.
“While it may not necessarily change the direction of how microplastics are popping up everywhere, it gives me peace of mind that at least I'm doing my part. And maybe if others see us doing that, then they'll enact that in their own personal lives,” Picchio said.
Looking forward, the ELP plans to increase accessibility to the organization. Coutinho said the group is reaching out to potential members to raise awareness about their cause.
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