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Vermont Law Rubin Fellows Look at Environmental Justice

Clean Air for All, Low-Income Energy Efficiency Programs Focus of Work

Maryellen Apelquist, Director of Media Relations, Vermont Law School
office: 802-831-1228, cell: 802-299-5593,

SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., July 11, 2014—Two Vermont Law School students are spending the summer focused on environmental justice after being awarded fellowships for work with the nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation (VEIC) and the Office of the New York State Attorney General.

Sylvia J.S. Bartell ’15 and Ashley Welsch ’15 were selected for VLS’s competitive Rubin Fellowship, awarded in memory of Zander Rubin, founding director of the South Royalton Legal Clinic, to fund summer employment for juris doctor candidates working on behalf of clients who are disadvantaged or traditionally underrepresented. Created in 1985, the Rubin Fellowship was the first competitive fellowship established at VLS.

Bartell, who works in VEIC’s legal department, researches regulatory and statutory requirements as they apply to various Efficiency Vermont/VEIC programs and policies. She is motivated by the burden that steep energy costs place on low-income individuals.

“Low-income advocacy is especially important in the electric industry because low-income residents are heavily impacted by even a slight variance in electric rates—rates that the average consumer has no real control in setting,” Bartell said. “In a 1970s case, Goldberg v. Kelly, Supreme Court Justice Brennan wrote, ‘We have come to recognize that forces not within the control of the poor contribute to their poverty.’ VEIC is dedicated to the public interest and places importance on providing energy services to low-income homes.”

During her internship with the New York State AG’s Environmental Protection Bureau in Buffalo, Welsch aims to effect positive change in environmental enforcement and compliance.

“Several of the cases I’m working on have a strong environmental justice component because they involve underrepresented groups,” Welsch said. “One of the cases was brought to the attorney general’s attention by a group [Clean Air Coalition of Western New York] that advocates for clean air for all, and I did an internship with that organization in college. It’s a great, full-circle feeling to be able to help those citizens.”

“Another case addresses lead-based paint hazards in Buffalo housing and the dangers the hazards pose to children,” Welsch said.

The Rubin Fellowship selection committee is comprised of representatives from the South Royalton Legal Clinic, Vermont Legal Aid, and the Office of the Vermont Attorney General, as well as Vermont-based social worker Ruth Rubin, Zander Rubin’s widow.

“When the level of commitment shines through, and the project knowledge shines through, we take note,” said Professor James May, director of the SRLC and chair of the selection committee. “We were impressed by Sylvia’s and Ashley’s passion and determination to do the work. Their dedication is a fine tribute to Zander, who was a lawyer’s lawyer and brought many impact cases to court in the 1970s and 1980s.”

For more information about the Rubin Fellowship or other public interest opportunities at Vermont Law School, call James May at 802-831-1500, email, or visit For more information about energy and environmental law and policy programs at VLS, visit


Vermont Law School, a private, independent institution, has the top-ranked environmental law program and one of the top-ranked clinical training programs in the nation, according to U.S.News & World Report. VLS offers a Juris Doctor curriculum that emphasizes public service; two Master’s Degrees (Master of Environmental Law and Policy, and Master of Energy Regulation and Law), and three post-JD degrees—LLM in American Legal Studies (for foreign-trained lawyers), LLM in Energy Law, and LLM in Environmental Law. The school features innovative experiential programs and is home to the Environmental Law Center, the South Royalton Legal Clinic, and the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. For more information, visit, find us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter.

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