Alison Wright

Alison WrightEnvironmental Defenders Law Center

Bozeman, Mont.

Alison Wright will be interning for Environmental Defenders Law Center (EDLC), a nonprofit law organization that works to protect the human rights of individuals and communities in developing countries who are fighting against harm to their environment.

July 1, 2013

My PILF grant has allowed me to intern for Environmental Defender Law Center (EDLC). I'm doing my internship remotely from Mexico City, where I can continue to strengthen my Spanish skills through language tutoring and immersion. At roughly the halfway point for this summer's internship, I am learning a huge amount and am constantly challenged.

Thus far, my work as an intern has included research and writing related to both U.S. and foreign litigation. My first discrete assignment was to draft portions of an amicus brief to be submitted on behalf of an Egyptian community seeking the closure of a fertilizer plant operating near their homes. The plant emits various pollutants and foul odors, and local residents are suffering constant exposure to ammonia and other noxious fumes. My goal was to highlight the treatment of ammonia exposure by jurisdictions around the world, through statutes, common law actions such as nuisance, and human rights provisions like the right to privacy/sanctity of the home. The right to protection from pollution and other environmental rights have increasingly been held by courts to be subsumed within these long-standing doctrines. Judges may be persuaded to rule in favor of communities if they are presented with compelling evidence that many courts contemplating similar claims have done so. In addition, because the scope of human rights provisions is continuously expanding, it can be helpful to present a brief highlighting these developments for judges who may not normally consider the human rights dimensions of their cases.

This type of work is central to EDLC's program, and provides a valuable complement to the work of local lawyers leading these sorts of cases. Aside from the value of learning about issues specific to the case, the project also gave me a great chance to start honing my international case law research skills. It's been something of a learning curve to get the lay of the land in terms of online databases and similar resources, but because I hope to pursue this area of law after I graduate, it is crucially important experience.

Aside from this project, I've been working on a number of other tasks, including research related to possible litigation against a U.S. company for labor conditions and environmental management failures at its biggest foreign supplier, research on applicable law for a possible consulta popular (local referendum) on a proposed mining project in Nicaragua, and other investigation and research related to human rights violations against environmental defenders. The first of these has provided a great means by which to expand my knowledge of fundamental civil procedure issues that are central to human rights and environmental claims brought against U.S. defendants by foreign plaintiffs, such as forum non conveniens and choice of law.

My work related to the proposed mining project in Nicaragua couldn't be more in line with my interests. EDLC has been an instrumental organization in supporting local referendums against mining, dams, and similar projects, especially in Latin America, where destructive natural resource development is booming. Even while these votes may not be binding, the premise is basic: communities have a right to participate in decision-making when it may affect their land and livelihoods. I share EDLC's view that the possibilities for positive change and empowerment through actions like a consulta popular are only beginning to be realized, so it's very exciting to be able to work on this issue.

Court Level