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piles of petcoke pictured under Ambassador BridgeA team from Windsor Law helped to dissuade Detroit from approving a permit for open-air storage of petcoke on its riverfront.

Cross-border environmental law clinic evokes change in Detroit

A Windsor Law clinic played a part in a victory for Mother Earth this past Earth Day, as the city of Detroit denied a request for open-air storage of petcoke that posed air pollution risks.

Last August, the Marathon Petroleum Corporation applied for an allowance to permit open-air storage of petcoke, a by-product of its petroleum refining operations. Detroit turned down the application on April 22 — Earth Day 2019.

A team from Windsor Law’s Transnational Environmental Law and Policy Clinic worked with counterparts from the Detroit Mercy Environmental Law Clinic to prepare a commentary, one of 77 letters to the municipality opposing the request, with none favouring it.

In their submission, Windsor Law students Oshani Amaratunga, Nathan Prendergast, and Shahrouz Shoghian stressed that Marathon’s attempts to evade ordinances requiring the coverage of petcoke deposits would offer environmental risks not only to Detroit residents, but also to residents in neighbouring Canada and to the shared ecosystem along the Detroit River.

Law professor Patricia Galvao-Ferreira, academic director of the Transnational Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, said their effort highlights the importance of experiential learning opportunities available to students.

“Students were able to better understand the legal challenges posed by transboundary environmental problems and to join in a binational effort to protect the quality of the air and the water shared by US and Canada,” she said.

The clinic engages with a range of public interest environmental law and policy projects with the potential to protect and benefit vulnerable citizens or groups who are often disproportionately subjected to high levels of environmental pollution and degradation.

Environmental challenges such as air pollution, climate change, freshwater contamination, invasive species, or sustainable fisheries, do not respect borders, noted Dr. Galvao-Ferreira.

Located on the Canada-US border and at the heart of the Great Lakes ecosystem, the clinic has been establishing partnerships with law schools in Michigan and is seeking to work with environmental organizations in Canada on issues subject to multi-level regulation.

—Rachelle Prince

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