Environmental Law Program

Environmental Law Clinic

The Environmental Law Clinic is a non-litigation, live-client clinic that provides direct legal services to rural and underserved communities in Hawai’i that focuses on environmental issues. Over the course of the semester, students work with clients to develop and implement legal strategies on actual legal issues relating to Hawaiʻi’s natural and cultural resources with an emphasis on community involvement.

Past clinics have worked on a range of issues. We have partnered with community groups to review and comment on Draft Environmental Impact Statements, assisted state agencies in researching and drafting proposed administrative rules, helped community members complete permit applications for the first-ever Surface Water Management Area in Hawai‘i, and assisted land owners and community groups in crafting more proactive legal and on the ground management strategies for natural and cultural resources. With grants from the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Ka Huli Ao Center for Excellence in Native Hawaiian Law, the Environmental Law Clinic has done work that impacted lands and other resources on the islands of Hawai‘i, Maui, Moloka‘i, O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.

The clinic teaches students fundamental principles as well as practical skills by giving students the opportunity to:

(1) analyze issues to determine whether legal remedies exist and are appropriate to address the problem at hand;
(2) develop and implement case strategy;
(3) collaborate with clients;
(4) refine factual and legal research; and
(5) write persuasively.

Initial classes are spent reviewing relevant county, state, and/or federal laws relating to the project at hand. Students then work in teams to assist clients on a range of issues. To facilitate that work, client interaction and site visits to affected resources and communities – many of which are on neighbor islands – are an invaluable part of the course. Once a project is complete, students present the final product to the client and/or their counsel.

If you have any questions related to the course or are interested in requesting assistance from the Environmental Law Clinic, please don’t hesitate to contact Professor Sproat (kapuas@hawaii.edu).

Past Environmental Law Clinics

Fall 2011 students

Quiet Title and Partition Action of Ancestral Lands in Moloka’i
The Environmental Law Clinic, co-taught in the fall semester by Kapua Sproat ’98 and Stephanie Chen, explored the intersection between natural and cultural resource preservation. The clinic focused on the relationship between Western legal methods of securing land title and the conservation of Native Hawaiian land in the fall of 2011. Nine environmental law clinicians facilitated community trainings on Oʻahu, Molokaʻi, and Maui, to assist pro se defendants in Bartell v. Heirs or Assigns of Manuela, a quiet title and partition action that involves ancestral lands on the east end of Molokaʻi. The case affects hundreds of Native Hawaiians and the clinic provided workshops and materials for defendants who may participate in the case without legal assistance. The Native Hawaiian Rights Clinic, co-taught by Melody Kapilialoha MacKenzie ’76 and Stephanie Chen, will continue the Environmental Law Clinicʻs work on the case in the spring.

Spring 2010 students and client representatives on a site visit to the Reppun Farm in Waiahole, O`ahu.

Redrafting Rules Relating to Water Rights on O’ahu
In the spring of 2010, the Environmental Law Clinic worked with the State Commission on Water Resource Management of the State Department of Land and Natural Resources to fulfill a mandate from the 1980s under the state water code. The Environmental Law Clinic students partnered with DLNR staff in order to draft rules on pertinent water rights. In preparing for their work, the students not only learned about the the related laws and regulations, but also got hands-on experience with regards to lo’i kalo, or wetland kalo cultivation, during a site visit out at the Reppun Farm in Waiahole. Understanding the environmental and cultural aspects of the issue better informed the students to draft rules that would protect the water rights of the different parties involved.

Fall 2009 students with SustAINAble Moloka'i client representative in Kalaupapa, Moloka'i


Research on an Action Plan for a More Sustainable Moloka’i
The Environmental Law Clinic assisted SustAINAble Moloka’i in the fall of 2009 to develop an action plan to better manage cultural and natural resources on Moloka’i. SustAINAble Moloka’i had its roots following the closure of Moloka’i Ranch as its founders aimed to address both environmental and community issues. In the wake of La’au Point, SustAINAble Moloka’i wanted to develop an action plan that would allow Moloka’i residents to take a more proactive approach towards living with a sense of kuleana to malama ‘aina, or a responsibility to care for the land. SustAINAble Moloka’i tasked its youth to put together a sustainability plan and the Environmental Law Clinic students assisted with factual and legal research that was used in the development of the action plan. The community relied on that student research to change the Department of Hawaiian Homelands’s position on irrigation systems and ground water.

Maui Water Project - Client Meets with Kate Bryant '09

Assisting Families on Maui with Surface Water Management Area Permits
In the fall of 2008, the Environmental Law Clinic assisted over 80 families on Maui with the permit process following the State Water Commission’s “designation” of Na Wai ‘Eha, Maui, as the first-ever Surface Water Management Area in Hawai‘i’s history. Students flew to Maui to give a presentation on the permitting process, gather information, and began to prepare documentation for interested residents. Many continued the work into their spring semester through directed studies or pro bono work to review completed applications. For the complete story, please click here.