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Peter Harrison 2011

Peter Harrison 2011

Arguably on Top

Environmental Litigation Intern Saves Mountains

“I moved to New York from the mountains of southern Appalachia to go to law school. I chose Pace Law School because of its acclaimed program in environmental law, but I never imagined this choice would give me a chance to represent clients in their fight to protect the mountains where I used to live before I even graduate.”

As a student intern at the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, Peter Harrison ’11 has had the opportunity to represent citizens and environmental groups in a case against the two largest mountaintop removal coal mining companies operating in Kentucky. He argued recently in Franklin Circuit Court for a judge to allow the environmental groups to intervene in the State’s enforcement case against those companies—a motion which the judge ultimately granted.

Harrison said the Clinic has given him real-world experience in every aspect of litigation: investigation, working with clients, drafting documents, and arguing in court. “It’s the students at the Clinic who are ultimately responsible for doing all the work on a case, and keeping up with everything. As a result, we really learn the cases inside and out—which helps so much when arguing in court.” 

Harrison also benefited from working directly with highly-skilled faculty advisors at the Clinic, who are widely considered to be leading experts nationally on the Clean Water Act. He singled out Professor Karl Coplan, who wrote the chapter on citizen suits in the Environmental Law Practice Guide.

Professor Daniel Estrin, Harrison’s Supervising Attorney at the Clinic noted, “law school graduates who go to work for law firms often wait five or more years to get this type of experience after they pass a bar exam. For a law student to argue to a court in any case—much less such important and high profile cases as these—is an invaluable experience the student will carry for the rest of his career.”

From his experience at the Clinic, Harrison said, “I’ve learned that I definitely want to be litigating after I graduate from law school. That’s really what excites me and what I’m passionate about.” His dream job, he said, would be litigating Clean Water Act issues for a public interest group in southern Appalachia, ideally relating to mountaintop removal coal mining.

“There is little public awareness of the problems involved with mountaintop removal, yet it is a uniquely critical issue. The environmental devastation it causes is widespread and permanent. It also has far-reaching social justice issues that date back more than a century,” he said. “In Kentucky, only about eight percent of the coal supply that is extracted comes from this type of mining, yet the environmental destruction goes far beyond anything I’ve ever seen; so far, they have literally blown up 500 of the oldest and most biologically diverse mountains in the world. This practice cannot be justified.”

In addition to his work with the clinic, Harrison has served as an articles editor on the Pace Environmental Law Review; held a summer externship at the state Department of Environmental Protection; been active in the student Environmental Law Society; and learned vital legal practice skills in the classroom.  He reflected, “I think the rounded experience I’ve had at Pace just happens naturally when students get involved in the many different opportunities that are available here.”