Mary Claire Kelly

The Project

Mary Claire Kelly’s (she/her/hers) project at ACE will assist local grassroots movements in Massachusetts with legal advocacy for climate and environmental justice in communities of color and low-income communities that have a long history of subjection to environmental racism. This project adds capacity and momentum for environmental and climate justice advocates in Massachusetts as they build towards a sustainable and equitable future.

Fellowship Plans

Through this Fellowship, Mary Claire will help communities tackle current environmental justice issues and build legal and policy avenues to address the future issues that the climate crisis will bring. As a movement lawyer, she will assist grassroots coalition members and residents of communities affected by pollution with legal advice, action, and strategy. This work will include helping local and state efforts to implement climate justice policy and providing legal assistance to marginalized communities advocating for a livable environment.

Mary Claire entered law school for the purpose of becoming a public interest attorney. She developed this project out of a commitment to the ethics of movement lawyering, and out of frustration and anxiety about the economic and social factors that have led us to climate crisis.

It will take all of us to turn our collective future away from climate chaos and towards a path of healing and equity. I am honored to do my part through this Fellowship with the amazing people at ACE.

Mary Claire Kelly /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Norrel (she/her/hers) will uplift the experiences of her community and provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy in Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes region to ensure low-income residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water.

Lack of access to safe and affordable drinking water is a rapidly growing environmental justice issue disproportionately impacting communities of color and lower-income communities. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, water affordability should be no more than 3% of a household’s monthly income. Yet, some Detroiters pay more than 20% of their monthly income toward their water bills. Detroit residents shoulder crippling debt from unaffordable water bills in a city plagued by failing infrastructure.

Detroit residents who cannot afford their water bills face displacement of their children and homelessness. Additionally, having no water or plumbing infrastructure has been linked to a rise in infectious diseases worldwide, even in the U.S. In 2016, Michigan experienced a Hepatitis B outbreak; a study found that water inaccessibility contributed to the spread of the illness. Detroit needs a permanent equity-based water affordability plan to address structural inequality and increase the quality of life for residents.

Born in Flint, raised in Detroit, and being personally affected by water issues compelled Norrel to join the fight for water affordability. Black and poor citizens are routinely and disproportionately negatively affected by human rights abuses.

Fellowship Plans

Building on the foundation that water warriors before her have laid, during her Fellowship, Norrel will provide direct legal representation and policy advocacy to ensure low-income residents have access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water. The current legal framework provides little protection for Detroiters’ water rights. Norrel will work as an advocate for residents, helping them appeal to correct water bills, enroll in existing low-income payment programs, and eliminate the practice of shutting off water for non-payment.

Media

WMU-cooley Graduate Selected as an Equal Justice Works Fellow

Water is a human right! Every human being deserves access to clean, safe, affordable drinking water.

Norrel Hemphill /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Jina (she/her/hers) will advocate with low-income residents of color in East Oakland, California for environmental justice and community resilience through direct representation, education, and policy implementation.

Racial justice and environmental justice are inextricably linked. Amidst current crises like the racial disparities of the COVID-19 pandemic are the persistent crises in environmental justice communities like East Oakland—pollution, poverty, and more—which are exacerbated by climate change and an extractive economy that prioritizes industry profits over residents’ health. In such globally challenging times, East Oakland is also grappling with how its future will look and who will control its fate, as it encounters challenges like unreliable energy, serious respiratory health issues, and displacement.

Low-income residents of color in East Oakland need a comprehensive response that will build community resilience, capacity, and self-determination, supporting their self-empowerment toward a more just and sustainable future.

Fellowship Plans

During her Fellowship, Jina will represent the community in proceedings regarding California’s energy portfolio and implement a microgrid in the community. She will work with residents to develop a community benefits agreement to prevent displacement and to support local economic development. She will also develop educational materials on wildfire preparedness and other environmental health issues of interest to the community.

During the beginning of my family's story in America, we struggled to survive in a foreign place with no voice and no power. These early experiences taught me the importance of listening to and amplifying the voices of people who our society often silences, and motivated my decision to pursue community lawyering.

Jina Kim /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Through regulatory advocacy, direct representation, and public awareness campaigns, Jorge (he/him/his) will advocate for disadvantaged communities in Wisconsin facing disproportionate exposure to toxic pollutants from contaminated water, particularly PFAS exposure.

The United States has a national drinking water crisis disproportionately affecting low-income communities and communities of color. Across the country, disadvantaged communities are vulnerable to exposure to water contaminated with a group of toxic and persistent synthetic chemicals known as per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that at least two types of PFAS were detected in at least one public water system in 24 states. In Wisconsin, the Department of Natural Resources confirmed the presence of PFAS in sediment and surface water at the EPA-designated Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern, which covers portions of the Milwaukee, Menomonee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers. Vulnerable communities at risk of suffering severe health repercussions of toxic exposure need a comprehensive advocacy response to defend their right to safe drinking water.

Fellowship Plans

Jorge will employ a multi-pronged strategy to advocate for safe drinking water to mitigate the health risks associated with PFAS exposure. Jorge will amplify the voices of vulnerable communities through Wisconsin’s rulemaking process and develop a strong administrative record to urge for a reasoned regulatory response. He will also monitor and engage with federal regulatory developments that may affect state regulations. Jorge will develop educational materials on the risks of toxic exposure and promote local activism to spur statewide water testing. Finally, he will work with affected individuals to assess whether direct legal action is needed to seek redress.

Media

Defending the Right to Safe Drinking Water in Wisconsin

Environmental justice is ultimately about removing barriers to allow for equal protection under a democratic government and fair competition under a market economy. Through this fellowship, I want to amplify the voices of marginalized communities facing disproportionate legal and economic burdens. I want to foster equal access to the decision-making process allowing for a healthy environment in which people can thrive regardless of socioeconomic status or skin color.

Jorge Roman-Romero /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Idalmis (she/her/hers) will defend the environmental and housing rights of Black and Latinx families impacted by industrial lead contamination in East and Southeast Los Angeles through litigation, land use advocacy, and community education.

Low-income Black and Latinx communities in East and Southeast Los Angeles are living with high levels of lead resulting from the industrial contamination of one of the last lead smelters on the West Coast. For over 30 years, the Exide battery recycling facility emitted over 7 million pounds of lead into the air, water, and soil of these communities. The continued exposure to this neurotoxin is causing irreversible damage to children’s development and cognition. This contamination has resulted in what will be the largest cleanup of its kind in California and one of the biggest in the country.

Fellowship Plans

Idalmis will help address this environmental and racial injustice by advocating for the rapid and effective cleanup of contaminated homes and creating a litigation and policy strategy to ensure public health resources are provided to these impacted communities. Through Know Your Rights trainings, she will ensure residents are also provided the tools to advocate for local land-use policies that reduce their environmental burden and prioritize parks and other community resources.

Media

Advocating for Southern California Communities of Color Impacted by Environmental Injustice

Fabulous Fellows: Students Earn Premier Honors in Public Interest Practice

As someone who grew up less than two miles from the Exide facility, I went to law school to ensure my community has an attorney on their side fighting for their health, rights, and dignity.

Idalmis Vaquero /
2021 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Madeline employs a multi-dimensional legal and policy strategy to support low-income families experiencing the lead contamination water crisis in St. Louis Public Schools.

Low-income children are exposed to lead while attending schools in certain parts of St. Louis. Based on public records, elevated lead levels were detected in drinking fountains at schools in the St. Louis region as recently as September 2020. Madeline will address this public health crisis by advocating on behalf of these families and advocating for policy reform at the local level or a legislative campaign.

Madeline believes that communities should not be exposed to contaminates or pollution at higher rates because of the color of their skin or their socioeconomic status. She was inspired to do this work because of her grandmother’s community in North St. Louis, which faces many environmental injustices. Madeline is excited to be starting her legal career representing her grandmother’s community and others by advocating for clean water in St. Louis Public Schools.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Madeline has:

  • Submitted several records requests to the City of St. Louis and St. Louis Public Schools to analyze and publish water testing results from 2016, 2019, and 2020 and has analyzed over 300 water sampling results.
  • Conducted hours of legal research, collaborated with advocates from around the country, and met with elected officials, which all culminated with her crafting a policy recommendation for St. Louis area schools.
  • Raised awareness of the lead contamination issues in St. Louis schools by presenting and meeting with over two dozen community groups
  • Filed comments on behalf of a community organization to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Revision and communicated the groups’ interest in a public listening session hosted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Next Steps

In the next year, Madeline plans to:

  • Start a pilot program in a few St. Louis Public Schools to adopt a “filter first” policy approach, which entails installing filtered hydration stations or advocating for other remediation methods
  • Engage with elected officials at the Missouri legislature to lay the groundwork of a legislative campaign that requires testing in all schools and some form of remediation

Media

Fostering a More Just Society

Missouri bill would require schools to filter drinking fountains for lead

Environmental statutes and public health regulations should benefit everyone, not just the wealthy. Your ZIP code or the color of your skin should not dictate your quality of life in regard to exposure to toxins and pollution.

Madeline Middlebrooks /
Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Chase fights for environmental justice and community development in industrial communities on Texas’ Gulf Coast.

Texas’ seaports and large coastal industrial facilities have entered a period of growth. Their neighboring low-income and minority neighborhoods, which have long carried the burden of industry’s negative externalities without sharing in the prosperity, are under threat to be further left behind. These communities continue to suffer from high pollution, are crisscrossed by busy rail lines and truck routes, and despite their neighbors’ success, have continued high rates of unemployment and underdevelopment.

Chase was inspired to dig into the issues facing underdeveloped coastal communities when participating in a law school clinic. When he visited a port community to educate local leaders on their opportunities to advocate for themselves, he witnessed firsthand the daily challenges they face. Chase previously served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in the Disaster Recovery Legal Corps.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Chase has:

  • Provided direct legal representation to a community group and to individual clients spanning six different vulnerable port communities, which included participating in impact litigation and comments to state and federal agencies regarding permits for industrial facilities and strengthening of public participation processes
  • Conducted virtual and in-person outreach viewed or attended by 1800 individuals, developed educational materials that were distributed over 1200 times, and conducted two presentations to over 170 other public interest advocates
  • Completed a comprehensive community needs survey and assessment in a port community, which will be used to guide the implementation of a major community development project in the next year
  • Obtained changes to Texas’ environmental enforcement policy which will help protect environmental justice communities across Texas
  • Regularly participated in a coalition of over 15 public interest organizations working together to further environmental and economic justice along the Texas Gulf Coast

Next Steps

In the next year, Chase plans to:

  • Continue to directly represent individuals and community groups in transactional work and environmental and economic justice
  • Perform frequent outreach and community education to build relationships with more individuals and organizations in vulnerable port communities and strengthen their advocacy skills
  • Develop and pilot an “all about ports” educational curriculum, which can continue to be utilized in environmental justice communities after the fellowship
  • Engage with regulatory agencies at the local, state, and national level to strengthen protections and opportunities via direct legal representation and other means

Despite being illuminated by the bright lights of the 24 hours a day operations of their industrial neighbors, adjacent communities often do not receive nearly the attention and respect they deserve.

Chase Porter /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Emma advances community goals to further a sustainable and equitable economy in Chicago’s historically disinvested low-income communities of color by collaborating with community groups, creating tools and resources to better understand and reform complicated city policies, and providing legal services for transactional and permitting processes.

Historically disadvantaged communities of color in Chicago are disproportionately burdened by environmental harms and are working on proactive solutions to these harms, often despite steep barriers. Emma’s project addresses these barriers by providing advocacy and direct legal services to small businesses and community organizations creating healthier, safer, and economically sustainable environments. Her advocacy focuses on equitable water access and urban agriculture. Partnership organizations include urban agriculture support networks, green space and water advocates, and small businesses focused on sustainability and addressing environmental injustices.

Emma’s dedication to a cleaner environment motivates her to empower those most impacted by industry and pollution to create safer and healthier communities.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past year, Emma has:

  • Provided legal support to urban growers navigating water access options for the 2021 growing season
  • Advocated for equitable water access, infrastructure, and policies with community partners
  • Presented at information sessions and conferences on areas such as land use and zoning, LLC and nonprofit formation, and water access

Next Steps

In the next year, Emma plans to:

  • Create a legal clinic focused on providing land and property law advice to urban growers
  • Host a legal panel where attorneys will present information and answer questions on common legal issues urban growers face in the City of Chicago
  • Advocate for broader policies supporting sustainable development tools like urban agriculture
  • Provide legal assistance to policy advocates seeking to implement equitable water access and infrastructure

Media

Fighting for Land and Water Access in Chicago

The Power of Connection Virtual Event

I am eager to work alongside communities to affirmatively reduce environmental injustice and encourage sustainable development.

Emma Clouse /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Robert assisted Tribal nations in Wisconsin to bolster Tribal environmental sovereignty and protect natural resources/relatives, in particular clean water.

Long-running failures by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to properly administer the Clean Water Act have left critical waters insufficiently protected. Public health, cultural practices, and Tribal sovereignty are all impacted by state and federal failures to fully understand and respect Tribal relations to water. This is why Tribes must have a direct hand in environmental decision-making, through setting their own environmental standards and having more equitable involvement in federal and state processes.

Robert was interested in and inspired by Midwest Environmental Advocates’ community-centered approach to environmental lawyering since volunteering with them before he attended law school. Further, he sees sustainable relations to water, air, and land as inextricably linked to proper recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and the complicated histories of colonization that continue to reverberate today.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Robert:

  • Engaged Tribal and State officials on various paths to improve consultation based on extensive research of best practices across the U.S.
  • Developed numerous public guides on issues at the intersection of environmental protection and Tribal rights
  • Supported coalitions of Tribal and non-profit staff and local residents concerned about impacts of extractive industries such as metallic mining and oil pipelines
  • Represented non-profits and Tribal nations before multiple administrative agencies and courts

Next Steps

After the fellowship, Robert will join Earthjustice’s Tribal Partnerships Program as a Legal Fellow where they will continue working on issues related to Tribal environmental sovereignty. Earthjustice is a premier national nonprofit environmental law organization.

Media

Supporting Tribal Environmental Sovereignty

The Inspiration