Making a Case for a Sustainable Future

A new gift from Dan Emmett JD ’64 and the Emmett Foundation will expand and enhance Harvard Law School’s work in environmental law and create a first-of-its-kind environmental law moot court

An image of a gavel with a small green globe of the earth next to it and moss growing around it.

Making a Case for a Sustainable Future


To achieve quicker and broader progress on issues like clean air and water and the transition to carbon-free energy, current environmental regulations and policies will need a 21st-century update—and expert legal scholars to do that work. The Environmental and Energy Law Program (EELP) and the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School (HLS) are home to a powerhouse roster of lawyers, legal practitioners, and dedicated students who are doing just that—tackling the most serious environmental challenges by engaging with government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and private companies to identify durable policy strategies to secure a sustainable future.

Now, a gift from Dan Emmett JD ’64 and the Emmett Foundation will bolster the work of both the EELP and the Emmett Clinic through the creation of the Emmett Environmental Law Center, supporting student education, including more opportunities for fieldwork, the addition of new faculty and staff attorneys, on-campus convenings, and much more.

Working synergistically with the Emmett Clinic, the EELP tracks and analyzes policy developments and legal actions, educates stakeholders on the implications of these actions, and informs the public by serving as an expert resource for media. The Emmett Clinic provides students with the opportunity to practice real-life, real-time environmental law on local, national, and international projects that cover the spectrum of environmental issues—from litigating against rollbacks of environmental protections, to promoting equity in offshore wind procurement.

“I am thrilled that this new center will advance the important work happening at Harvard in environmental law, including in teaching, research, and support for critical environmental rules and regulations,” says Emmett, a longtime environmental advocate who helped launch the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic with a previous gift to HLS in 2008. “I am excited for the opportunities this will provide to students and future leaders in law, government, business, and more. And I am certain the center will have a positive impact on the law and on our environment for generations to come.”

It’s a “game changer,” says Jody Freeman LLM ’91, SJD ’95, Archibald Cox Professor of Law and founding director of the EELP, who was also instrumental in establishing the clinic. “Dan’s gift is critical to creating a legacy program here at Harvard Law School that will, in perpetuity, support our supremely talented team of staff attorneys, fellows, and other experts who deliver such huge benefits to our students and make such a significant difference in the world.” 

Practice Makes Perfect

Among many initiatives, the Emmett Environmental Law Center will establish the country’s first environmental moot court institute, which will enable attorneys to practice (moot) their arguments in front of Harvard’s world-class environmental law experts. Effective oral advocacy in the courts—especially in the courts of appeals—is critical to achieving success in litigation, but many NGOs lack appellate advocacy experience. This will be the only moot court focused exclusively on environmental law, particularly litigation at the federal district court and appellate court levels.

The moot court will also provide students with opportunities to help prepare for, observe, and offer feedback to attorneys as they moot their arguments—giving students the chance to learn more about complex environmental cases and litigation strategy while building connections with a broad network of legal practitioners.

Additionally, Emmett’s gift will create a dedicated fund for student fieldwork—such as trips to attend Supreme Court oral arguments or site visits to the regional offices of the Environmental Protection Agency or Department of the Interior—and support important convenings of stakeholders to work on the most challenging climate, energy, and environmental problems. It will also facilitate deeper connections between the Emmett Environmental Law Center and other Harvard Schools and institutions, including Harvard Business School, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability.

“We could not be more grateful to Dan Emmett for his generous gift and his longtime support for the study, teaching, and practice of environmental law at Harvard Law School,” says John C. P. Goldberg, interim dean of HLS and Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence. “Dan’s commitment to making it possible for students, professors, and practitioners to thrive here and in their work in the field is a tribute to both his character and his dedication to our community.”


“It’s Really About the Future”

Jody Freeman joins Richard Lazarus JD ’79, Charles Stebbins Fairchild Professor of Law; Andrew Mergen, Emmett Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor of Law in Environmental Law and faculty director of the Emmett Clinic; and Carrie Jenks AB ’99, executive director of the EELP, to discuss the importance of HLS’s work in climate and sustainability and the impact Emmett’s gift will have.

Jody Freeman
Richard Lazarus
Andrew Mergen
Carrie Jenks

Q: The Emmett Environmental Law Center aims to help solve the most serious environmental challenges we face by developing and advocating for effective legal strategies. How do you do that?

Freeman: Through our clinic and research program, we strengthen and defend the legal rules that protect the environment and public health, advance climate solutions, and accelerate the transition to cleaner energy. We also propose legal reforms that will remove obstacles to climate and environmental progress. To that end, we work on a variety of issues, including federal greenhouse gas rules, state energy policies, corporate climate commitments, public lands conservation, and environmental justice. Everything we do is impacted by or related to climate change, and that is the common thread of our work.

Lazarus: The pathway for the development of effective legal strategies is inherently one that requires active discussions with other leading academics; environmental legal experts in the private, public, and public interest sectors; and ultimately with those policymakers in the position to effectuate the necessary change.

Mergen: Students come to HLS with interests in a range of environmental work. On the litigation front, we do lots of work on cross-cutting issues, such as access to the courts and who has legal standing to bring cases. We also train students in other issues in flux, like the management of water rights in a changing climate.

On the policy front, we have recently worked with organizations in Boston and North Carolina on environmental justice issues and with Alaska Native communities regarding access to subsistence resources. Here, too, the clinic’s work produces practice-ready lawyers.

Jenks: At EELP, we focus on federal and state climate and environmental rulemaking and identify opportunities to bring innovative legal analysis to the regulatory process, as well as convene different stakeholders to explore how an agency can design a regulation to be durable. We want to find ways to ensure the rule survives the courts but can also be implemented by the regulated entities.

Q: Why is the law an important avenue through which to tackle environmental issues?

Lazarus: For a simple reason: The necessary changes will not happen without the guardrails and the incentives that law provides. Environmental problems invariably involve actions at one time and place having serious—and potentially even irreversible and catastrophic—consequences at another time and place. A carefully crafted legal regime is required to ensure that the correct market signals are sent, individuals have the information necessary to take the consequences of their actions into account, and that some bounds are in place to avoid true catastrophe to both human health and the natural environment.

Freeman: You can have the best technological solutions and come up with the best ideas for how to make progress on climate change, but if you can’t put them into operation—if the legal system doesn’t support and help drive those solutions—then you can’t deliver on their promise.

Q. Another goal is to support the training of students who will shape, enforce, and defend the environmental laws of the future. Why is preparing students for this work such an important component?

Freeman: By exposing students to the finest scholars and practitioners on our faculty, work on the most complex issues in our research program, and the opportunity to train with top-level litigators in our clinic, we launch our students into the world already equipped to be effective advocates, complex thinkers, and leaders. And our students don’t just go into law; some go into business or climate finance. If you look at our alumni, you will see them all over the country and throughout the world, at every level of government and in the private sector doing very important work on climate, energy, and environmental protection.

Lazarus: For environmental law to work, it must persist and adapt over the long term to ever-changing circumstances. Only with the introduction into the legal profession of succeeding generations of the most talented and creative environmental lawyers can that happen.

Q. The Emmett Environmental Law Center will include a first-of-its-kind environmental moot court, otherwise known as a practice court. What will this look like?

Freeman: We will be providing a real service for the litigants who argue important environmental, energy, and climate cases. And it’s especially important to provide an opportunity for advocates to practice arguing cases early on, when they are still in federal district courts and courts of appeal.

Mergen: The goal is to help environmental litigants tap into the resources we have here at Harvard. Ultimately, we want to help prepare environmental advocates in the lower courts. The folks bringing challenges on the other side are sophisticated, strategic, and well-funded. And if you haven’t framed the issues in the best possible light in the lower courts, then you may be stuck in a poor position if or when the Supreme Court hears the case.

Q. Why is Harvard Law School the right place for all this work?

Freeman: We have all the ingredients: We have nationally renowned faculty and an unmatched academic program. Harvard also has a broad global reach, with an incredible alumni network that has impact around the world. But our greatest resource and our greatest asset are our students. We educate them and train them, but we also rely on them. They bring enormous interest, enthusiasm, and intellect to this program. And then they go into the world and put all their skills to work. That’s what Dan’s gift allows us to do. It’s really about the future.

Read an unabridged version of this interview in Harvard Law Today.