This Earth Day, Iowa Law celebrates the expansion of environmental law opportunities for students, alumni, and the larger community in Iowa and beyond.
Saturday, April 22, 2023

With the launch of the Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative (HELI) in 2022, the College of Law has continued to build upon its solid reputation for teaching and scholarship in environmental law. The initiative has engaged students, practitioners, and scholars this past year in ways that contribute actionable solutions to some of today's most pressing environmental issues.

The Hubbell Initiative was created by the vision and generosity of alumni Charlotte Beyer Hubbell (76JD) and Fred Hubbell (76JD) and provides an active forum for interdisciplinary engagement on important environmental issues, supports law students and curriculum, and ultimately raises the environmental bar in Iowa.

Supporting student success

The Hubbell Initiative provides summer stipends to assist environmentally-minded students wishing to pursue public interest or public service careers in environmental law. Collectively called Hubbell Scholars, recipients use the funding to support unpaid summer positions after their first year of law school.

First-year law students, Alec Goos and Jonathan Humston, were named Hubbell Scholars and will receive stipends to support their work as law clerks at the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC) in Des Moines this summer.

“It is truly an exciting time to be a student interested in environmental law because HELI has provided instrumental support in exploring my interests,” says Goos. “As a Hubbell Scholar, I have been able to explore different opportunities and have access to valuable resources. There have been numerous speaker events and conversations with alumni that have enabled me to explore aspects of environmental law that I had not previously considered.”

In addition to Hubbell Scholars, the Hubbell Initiative also offers two fellowships for students interested in unpaid public interest internships in environmental law. Hubbell Fellows apply through the Field Placement Program, directed by Professor June Tai.

Last summer, second-year law student Jonathan Picado was named a Hubbell Fellow and received a summer stipend for his work as a law clerk at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Environment and Natural Resources Division in Washington, DC.

 “I was able to work on matters ranging from Fifth Amendment takings arising out of natural disasters to water rights disputes between states. My work with the Department of Justice was exactly what I envisioned environmental advocacy to look like––one that is informed by both the law and the science surrounding many environmental issues,” says Picado.

Coursework to inspire action

Iowa Law offers several courses in environmental law, including Environmental Law and Energy Law and Policy taught by Shannon Roesler, the Charlotte and Frederick Hubbell Professor of Environmental and Natural Resources Law. The college also offers Water Law and International Environmental Law, taught by Professor John Carlson, the Victor & Carol Alvarez Fellow in Law. Both faculty members also teach seminars in climate change law and policy.

"My [Energy Law] course focuses on utilities regulation and the transition to a net-zero energy grid,” says Professor Roesler, who looks forward to teaching the course in the 2023-2024 academic year.

In support of expanding the environmental law curriculum at Iowa Law, new courses and intersession courses are currently being evaluated based on current needs and areas of greatest impact in the field. This fall, for example, the college will offer Environmental Disaster Law and Policy. Classroom instruction combined with valuable hands-on learning opportunities is preparing students to succeed in various occupations within environmental law.

Establishing a career pipeline

The Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative is working to strengthen the pipeline for those interested in pursuing a career in environmental law.

“Resources are being developed to help students, alumni, and working professionals find jobs in environmental law. It’s exciting to see the opportunities we are creating,” says Blake Rupe, program director at the Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative.

The initiative also hosted a Careers in Environmental Law panel featuring alumni of the College of Law: Robert “Andy” Andersen (76JD), an environmental and renewable energy consultant; Eric Dirth (18JD), assistant attorney general at the Environmental Division of the Iowa Attorney General’s Office; Ingrid Gronstal (05BD, 11JD), HELI Research Fellow; and John Lande (11JD), a shareholder at Dickinson Law Firm in Des Moines.

Ingrid Gronstal is an alum of Iowa Law and recently joined the Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative as a research fellow. She brings an impressive background in environmental law and policy work, most recently serving as the water program director at the Iowa Environmental Council. Gronstal’s work at the initiative will focus on research and writing and building connections between HELI, law students, practitioners, and organizations.

As a research fellow with the initiative, Gronstal will also have the opportunity to hire law student research assistants, providing them with unique opportunities to build skills and network in environmental law and policy.

Through a series of collaborative partnerships, the initiative is bolstering the state’s environmental law community. The growing network is helping Iowa law students connect with alumni and supplement their coursework with meaningful real-world experiences.

Events to enlighten and engage

Programing and events made possible by the Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative have engaged the College of Law with some of today’s most pressing environmental law issues.

“Our past events have been incredible opportunities to engage the legal community, the state of Iowa, the law school, as well as students,” says Rupe. “We’ve been able to host our own events, as well as help support and amplify events from other units on campus.”

These events have helped bring awareness to the initiative itself, and have also helped educate, network, and expand on the work being done in the field.

“I have found that programs hosted by HELI have been able to generate conversations about issues local to the Iowa but also around the nation,” adds Goos. “I have found these discussions especially illuminating because environmental law is often examined through a national scope. Still, it is necessary to remind ourselves that there is a local conversation also occurring and that is often where we can make the most change.”

For its most recent event, the Hubbell Environmental Law Initiative welcomed 12 legal scholars from the Environmental Law Collaborative to discuss issues of law, justice, and equity under conditions of high levels of global warming. The initiative is beginning to increase dialogue among today’s leading experts that will contribute actual solutions to environmental problems.

Other past events include talks from John Leshy, emeritus distinguished professor at UC Law San Francisco, about his book Our Common Ground: Why America’s Public Lands are a Political and Conservation Success Story, as well as Kierán Suckling, a founder and executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity for a talk on how his center has become a successful litigant and change-maker for endangered species and critical habitat.

HELI has also convened expert panels to discuss salient environment topics, such as the Carbon Pipelines Across Iowa event featuring policy experts pipeline representatives, landowners and environmentalists, and Solar Energy in Iowa: Policies and Practices at the Municipal, County and State Levels event.

“HELI allows Iowa Law to be a leading voice in environmental law as we work to improve sustainability efforts in our communities,” says Goos. “Climate change is a pressing issue that demands urgency; HELI shows that the College of Law is committed to supporting investment into solving problems caused by climate change. In addition, I think HELI places conversations around environmental law to be at the forefront; I think that it will create lawyers who are cognizant of not only the importance of environmental law, but also the intersectionality between environmental law and other fields of law.”

The Hubbell Initiative has also co-sponsored events such The Human Rights Conundrum: Climate Change Interventions as Both Problem and Solution, a symposium hosted by the Journal for Gender, Race and Justice and Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, a series of events hosted by the UI Center for Human Rights titled Human Rights and Climate Change, and the Labor & Climate Justice Summit hosted by the UI Labor Center.

Looking forward

Professor Roesler emphasizes that the Hubbells’ generous gift could not have come at a more important time. “As we face the disruptions of climate change, biodiversity loss, and other pressing environmental issues, we need to bring our law students into conversations with experts in other disciplines, as well as governmental and nonprofit stakeholders. The Hubbell Initiative provides these opportunities by creating spaces for dialogue and collaboration toward solutions,” she says.

The Hubbell Initiative has made a tangible impact since its inception and will continue to deepen and broaden engagement on environmental issues at the College of Law, in Iowa, and beyond.

“HELI’s mission to incorporate students, academics, and local community members is incredibly inspiring, and I am confident Iowa Law’s environmental law programs will become a defining feature of the law school in years to come,” says Picado.