The following student post is by Patrick Tully (B.A., University of Massachusetts; J.D., Wayne State University Law School, expected 2014). While in law school, Patrick received a Wayne Law public interest fellowship to work with Massachusetts Department of Conservation, Office of the General Counsel. He also interned at the Michigan Court of Appeals and worked a large Michigan law firm, where he will be returning to practice this fall. Patrick was one of the Wayne Law clinic students working on a major highway expansion near campus in midtown Detroit (see coverage in the Detroit News and Free Press).
I began working for the Transnational Environmental Law Clinic at Wayne Law this past January. Under the guidance of Professor Nick Schroeck, I began researching the legal requirements that the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) must comply with in order to begin the expansion of Interstate 94 through Detroit. (For more background, Professor Schroeck recently discussed the project in an interview on the Craig Fahle show.)
The project itself is going to cost over $2 billion in tax payer money and will expand I-94 to 10 lanes with two service drives on both sides of the road: a 14 lane highway through the middle Detroit. This enormous project will remove several pedestrian bridges over the highway, displace many residents, destroy historical buildings, and will encourage drivers to pass through Detroit, rather than encouraging commuters to explore the thriving Midtown area.
MDOT and the FHWA, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), performed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the project in 2004. An EIS mandates any agency to assess the environmental impacts of any major Federal Project; the 1-94 project falls within this criteria. Though MDOT and FHWA likely complied with NEPA in 2004, nearly ten years have past and with that time, the City, the environment, and the law has changed greatly. My work with the Clinic focused on these changes.
An agency, according to CEQ regulations, must conduct a Supplemental EIS if there are significant changes to the environment since the original EIS. Focusing on population variations, new perspectives on public transportation, the age of the EIS, and the law regarding climate change after Mass. v. EPA (which was decided after the EIS) my research found that MDOT and the FHWA must conduct a Supplemental EIS if they plan to obey the law. The Supplemental EIS will analyze the current state of the area, not the conditions as they were ten years ago.
Though neither agency has expressly committed to conducting a Supplemental EIS, I feel strongly that my work, along with other students’ work at the Clinic, will convince the agencies to comply with NEPA.
I will be graduating from Wayne Law School in a few weeks and my work in the Clinic was one of the best parts of my education. I have worked on actual cases that have a potentially massive impact on our community here in Detroit. I have met and worked with countless area leaders including state representatives, agencies leaders, lawyers, religious leaders, journalists, and public activists. I attended public hearings and meetings where state and local leaders make the environmental decisions that affect us all. I conducted extensive legal research and assisted in the legislature’s drafting process for the State of Michigan. I acted as a spokesperson for the Clinic students on a local radio station and I conducted research on proposed federal regulations. The list goes on.
With Nick Schroeck at the helm of the Clinic, there are endless possibilities in what a student can accomplish. Nick leaves an enormous amount of discretion to each student and with the diverse caseload the Clinic can offer, there is something for anyone interested in environmental law. Whether it is policy, litigation, or administrative law, the Clinic teaches students what being an environmental lawyer entails; for some, like me, it motivates us to pursue a career in environmental law.