To say that I am honored and proud to be joining California Coastkeeper Alliance (CCKA) as the organization’s new Staff Attorney would be an understatement. Joining the organization is truly a dream come true. A career in environmental law has easily been my only calling in life, and the only thing I ever felt compelled to pursue – personally and professionally. My interest in the environmental field was sparked in the sixth grade, when my class organized a fundraiser for the Nature Conservancy wherein we raised enough funds in 1992 to conserve 50 acres of rainforest. In law school, I was a member of the Environmental Law Association, the Public Interest Law Association, and the Women’s Law Caucus. I wrote and submitted to the Deputy Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone a research paper on the right to self-representation in international criminal tribunals. After passing the bar examination in California, I took a job as a litigation attorney to hone my skills as a new lawyer.
After having my daughter in 2015, I felt a strong desire to deepen my academic knowledge to better prepare myself for a focused career in environmental law. I felt I could not tell my daughter to pursue her dreams and to never give up if I did not do everything I could to pursue a career that has called me for nearly all my life. To this end, I began an online LL.M. program with Vermont Law School in pursuit of a Master of Laws degree in environmental law. I completed the LL.M. program in June 2019 while working full-time as a partner at a law firm and raising my young daughter.
I have now arrived to CCKA with a strong background as a litigation attorney with significant trial experience, and also with passion for ocean climate resiliency, coastal adaptation planning, drought and water conservation, and the potential role of environmental taxation in climate change mitigation efforts. Being provided the opportunity to implement CCKA’s new statewide Clean Water Act Enforcement Program allows me to marry my professional experience as a litigator with my personal passions.
Clean Water Act enforcement is a serious problem. As disclosed in CCKA’s 2019 Citizen Suit Report, more than half of California’s lakes, bays, wetlands, and estuaries are too polluted to drink, swim, or fish – and low-income communities of color suffer disproportionately. Despite this fact, the oil and agricultural industries, among others, continue to pollute our waters in clear violation of environmental laws with relative impunity from agency enforcement.
Fortunately, private citizens are empowered to act through the private right of action in the Clean Water Act, and this is where CCKA’s new Clean Water Act Enforcement Program gets involved. California leads the nation in the number of citizen lawsuits filed to defend our waterways – more than double the number of cases than any other state. Over the past five years, 83% of stormwater penalty enforcement cases in California were filed by private citizens, and these lawsuits provided $8.8 million in funding for environmental projects that benefit communities harmed by pollution addressed by the case.
Citizen action like this is critical, as enforcement by State and Regional Water Boards has historically been minimal. Prioritizing enforcement through CCKA’s new Clean Water Act Enforcement Program is one more step forward for all Californians to ensure a future of drinkable, swimmable and fishable waters for all. As Staff Attorney, I look forward to utilizing the power of the law on behalf of CCKA to hold polluters accountable for their actions that have such devastating effects on our ecosystems, wildlife and our own personal health.
Staff Attorney Erin Clancy leads CCKA’s Clean Water Act Enforcement Program and California Waterkeepers’ Legal Committee.