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VLS Clinic Wins Lengthy Fight Over LNG Terminal in Maine

January 30, 2013

A seven-year battle over a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas terminal (LNG) in Maine, led by Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Legal Clinic (ENRLC),  has resulted in an unqualified victory for the ENRLC and its clients, members of the Passamaquoddy tribe.

"This is a great success for our clients and for the ENRLC" said Doug Ruley, Director of the ENRLC. "We won with persistence, hard work, and an unwavering commitment to protecting the water, land, and air upon which we all depend."

The case began in 2005 when the ENRLC filed suit on behalf of Passamaquoddy tribal members challenging a decision by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to approve a lease to a private company for construction of a liquefied natural gas terminal on a site with great historic and spiritual significance. The proposed facility also threatened endangered right whales, whose critical habitat is directly in the path of the proposed shipping lane for tankers carrying the liquefied natural gas. The case was supported by the Educational Foundation of America and VLS Trustee Sheppard Guryan.

The case wound a lengthy path through the federal courts, including two hearings before the First Circuit of Appeals, after which the matter was referred to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (IBIA). While the appeal was pending, the Passamaquoddy Tribal Council voted to withdraw its support for the project and the BIA decided to terminate the long-term lease. 

However, to make sure the project could not be revived, the ENRLC requested that the IBIA formally vacate the BIA's initial approval of the lease. On January 25, 2013 the IBIA granted the clinic's request and issued an order vacating the BIA's approval of the lease, bringing the case --at long last-to a successful conclusion.

"Many hands contributed to this success, including the VLS student clinicians who labored over countless briefs," said Patrick Parenteau, Professor of Law and Senior Counsel to the ENRLC, who filed the case and successfully argued the initial appeal to the First Circuit. Other individuals at the ENRLC who played significant roles in the case include the following:

Justin Kolber '07, the ENRLC's first fellow and currently an Assistant Attorney General in Vermont, who drafted the briefs and participated in the first argument before the First Circuit.

Teresa Clemmer, a former staff attorney and acting director of the clinic, who took over the case, argued the second round before the First Circuit and filed the appeal to the IBIA.

Monica Litzelman, ENRLC paralegal and office manager, who managed the voluminous records that had to be kept and made sure all of the filings were made on time and in full compliance with all of the court rules

Laura Murphy, ENRLC staff attorney, who wrote the brief that convinced the IBIA to vacate the lease, which ended the case conclusively.

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