PennFuture Blog

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Introducing PennFuture's Legal Interns

Since its inception in 1998, PennFuture has emphasized the importance of using the law to protect Pennsylvania’s environment and “create a just future where nature, communities, and the economy thrive.”

Over the past 20 years, we have achieved significant legal and policy victories that reduce pollution and protect the environment. We have provided millions of dollars in pro bono legal services while setting critical precedents and enforcing environmental laws across the Commonwealth.

But as PennFuture looks forward to the next 20 years, we recognized that we need to be more involved with cultivating the legal talent that will continue to support our mission. Our attorneys have a long history of mentoring legal interns, externs, and fellows, and we wanted to create a more formal program to inspire the next generation. 

With the generous support of the George and Miriam Martin Foundation and the Otto Haas Charitable Trust, PennFuture created a paid legal internship program to inspire and mentor law students interested in making a difference for our environment. 

Ultimately, the goal of this program is to provide the organization a cadre of young legal minds interested in taking on the myriad challenges impacting the State as well as to further their potential careers in environmental law. We also hope that providing for a funded internship will help to bring more diversity and inclusivity into the non-profit environmental advocacy sphere.

This summer, we have a fantastic group of law students for our internship, representing a range of backgrounds and experiences. We’ve asked our summer legal interns to explain, in their own words, what environmental law and PennFuture’s mission means to them:

Emily Rollins is a rising third-year law student at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. 

I decided to go to law school because I wanted to pursue environmental law. I have always been interested in shaping a career around the interaction of humans and our natural environment, and  fighting for environmental justice. 

Prior to law school, I was working as an affiliate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association at the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center in Honolulu doing work related to fisheries economics. I received my B.S. and B.A. in environmental resource economics and French at the University of Nevada, Reno, and my M.Sc. in food, agriculture, and resource economics from the University of Guelph. While I very much enjoyed my work, I decided to go to law school because I wanted to play a more direct role in addressing environmental and social issues. 

I first became interested in PennFuture in 2020 when I read about their successful lawsuit against the EPA for its failure to regulate coke ovens. I am particularly interested in climate change and air quality issues and am very excited to be interning with PennFuture this summer!

Austin Grace is a rising third-year law student at Widener Commonwealth School of Law.

For the longest time, I thought about becoming an attorney since I was a child, but I was unsure about the kind of attorney I wanted to be. I was deciding whether I wanted to pursue a Ph.D in Environment and Ecology or obtain my J.D while I was working on a few research projects, but at the end of the day I decided to enter the legal field after long thought and consideration. 

I attended Moravian College and worked as a summer researcher for their SOAR Program in 2018. My research involved conducting a biodiversity assessment at the Lehigh Gap Nature Center  (LGNC) that involved collecting, identifying, and categorizing arachnids, along with storing them for future research on how the zinc contamination affected arachnid populations. During my time at LGNC, I saw first hand the devastation that the New Jersey Zinc Company caused to its mountains and rivers when they were in operation in the 1900’s. To this very day, LGNC is still making efforts  to restore the area. Working on the mountain sides at LGNC ignited a passion in me to protect species and the water quality. After completion of the project, I decided to set my sights on law school so I can pursue a career advocating for the environment. 

After my first year of law school, I worked as an intern for the Department of Environmental Protection at the Harrisburg Office remotely. I enjoyed my work with them and wanted to pursue further work with other legal departments. I then learned more about PennFuture from past interns that worked there and realized that this would line up with my passions on protecting water quality, other species, even air quality throughout Pennsylvania. By joining PennFuture this summer, I have the joy of being able to use the law to protect the wildlife and to ensure everyone's health is protected in Pennsylvania!"

Daniela Rakhlina-Powsner is a rising third-year law student at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, where she is a Law and Public Policy Scholar and a Beasley Scholar. 

I graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience and Behavior with a minor in Russian Literature and Culture and a certificate in Culture, Health, and Science. At Temple, I served as Vice President of the Health Law Society and Secretary for the American Constitution Society, and this upcoming year I will be on the board of the Temple chapter of National Layer’s Guild as the co-chair of the Environmental Justice Committee.

Last summer I worked as a legal fellow at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), a nonprofit organization that advocates for international sexual and reproductive health and rights as  well as doing research for Temple Professor Duncan Hollis regarding international law norms surrounding cyber crimes, particularly pertaining to attacks against the healthcare sector. 

Coming from a background in public health, I was driven to pursue environmental law because of the serious public health implications caused by environmental degradation and the climate crisis.
Prior to joining PennFuture I interned for Pennsylvania environmental nonprofit Clean Air Council. In addition to working for PennFuture this summer, I am assisting Professor Craig Green with research concerning the legal status of Federal Indian Reservations. 

When I’m not working, I enjoy choral singing (at least pre-covid), board games, and playing with my dog Merlin.

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PennFuture’s legal team is dedicated to restoring and protecting our environment and communities, to protecting our right to clean air and pure water, and to moving Pennsylvania toward a clean energy future. I thank our amazing staff and legal interns for their great work, and also our members for your continued support. We can’t do this without you! 

Not a member? Please consider joining PennFuture today to support all of the great work we do to protect our environment and hold polluters and our government accountable.

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