Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU law students fight to reduce pollution and save parrots

Apparently, no target is too daunting or too big for students at DU’s Sturm College of Law.

Students in the Environmental Law Clinic took on two courtroom superpowers in recent filings: the utilities giant Xcel Energy and the U.S. government. They’re demanding cleaner air and protection for several species of parrots in separate filings on behalf of environmentally minded clients.

In one action, students are working with supervising attorney and DU Lecturer Kay Bond on behalf of Rocky Mountain Clean Air Action (RMCAA). The group contends Xcel has violated emissions and monitoring regulations at its Cherokee Station Power Plant, located in Adams County, just north of Denver.

RMCAA Director Jeremy Nichols says taking on a large company poses challenges, but by working with the staff and students at DU’s clinic, he is able to muster the resources his group needs.

Bond says the students’ filing of a “notice of intent” is required before the clinic can file a lawsuit in court. She says a settlement between RMCAA and Xcel could forestall formal legal action. But if a settlement can’t be reached, student lawyer Jamie Cotter says she’s ready to go to court.

“The case is limited to this one issue at the plant, but it’s part of a greater issue: the air quality of the entire area,” Cotter says.

In a second action, students are working for Connecticut-based advocacy group Friends of Animals, pressing the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to restrict trade in rare species of macaws, parakeets, cockatoos and parrots. The new restrictions, Bond says, would make it harder for pet retailers to sell endangered birds by claiming they were born in captivity or previously owned and legally imported. Those loopholes currently hamstring efforts to restrict secret international trade.

“Listing these birds under the U.S. Endangered Species Act will head off poachers and collectors, increase funding and attention for research and habitat protection,” DU Environmental Law Clinic Director Jay Tutchton said in a news release.

Cotter says she and her fellow students aren’t worried by the thought of going up against teams of well-funded government and corporate attorneys.

“I guess that’s part of being a naive law student,” she says. “We’re not intimidated.”

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