Burlington Free Press Commentary
January 14, 2005

My Turn: Legal clinic works

By Patrick A. Parenteau

Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic has been in the news regarding an environmental conflict in Rutland County, "Law school notifies Omya it will sueover waste dump," (Free Press, Nov. 13).

There appears to be some confusion and mischaracterization about what is taking place. Vermont Law School is not planning to sue on its own account, but instead is taking action on behalf of deserving private parties.

This is not a new activity for the law school. Our South Royalton Legal Clinic, which serves Orange and Windsor counties, is currently celebrating its 25th year. Each year we help some of Vermont's poorest citizens address tough problems, including spousal abuse and immigration issues. In each instance we act as counsel and are never the principal.

Naturally, given Vermont Law School's leadership in environmental and public interest law, there is strong interest among our students for advancing the goals of environmental protection.

Vermont Law School is working to help Vermont citizens protect their legal rights under environmental law, as in other areas of law. The law creates opportunities for bringing suit against large polluters and others that damage the environment.

Individual citizens have rights, but they are often not exercised because of the difficulty and complexity of the laws that govern our natural resources. In addition, legal action can be very expensive, which makes it difficult for individuals without substantial wealth to exercise their rights.

Clinicians work on behalf of public interest, environmental, and conservation organizations, and learn how to find their way through the maze of laws and procedures that regulate economic development and resource extraction activities. Their work on behalf of Vermont group sand individuals is complemented by cases with national implications.

Environmental problems are not going away anytime soon, so it's a good bet that the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic will be mentioned from time to time in regional news. Though the legal clinic may occasionally grab the spotlight, our focus, and the public's focus, is on assisting the Vermonters who are most affected by these problems.

Patrick A. Parenteau is director of Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic in South Royalton.