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PennFuture’s Legal Internship Program Helps to Train and Inspire the Next Generation of Environmental Lawyers in Pennsylvania

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. 

This year, with the generous support of the George and Miriam Martin Foundation and the Otto Haus 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.

Speaking from personal experience, the ability of law students to have meaningful legal internships at non-profit organizations is often compromised by the need to financially support oneself while attending law school. We hope that over the coming years, our ability to provide a paid legal internship opportunity will allow for a greater diversity of students and flexibility to be a part of PennFuture and the non-profit environmental law community in Pennsylvania. 

This summer, we have a fantastic group of law students for our inaugural internship class, 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:

Megan Rulli, a rising second-year law student at Penn State Dickinson School of Law. Ms. Rulli is working on a variety of legal matters impacting our water resources across the state.

I come to environmental law after a decade in the world of small-scale, sustainable agriculture. I’ve switched to a career in law in order to understand and shape environmental policy. PennFuture is an organization that is working on many levels to make the change I believe necessary to protect Pennsylvania’s environment for future generations. I feel lucky to be part of a group of people that organizes communities at the grass roots level, works with decision makers to implement meaningful environmental policy, and makes strategic legal challenges that protect the earth and result in long term change.

I first became interested in law as an environmental activist in college, where I saw the power of law as a tool for change. While as students we held meetings and dreamed of change, lawyers were able to enter rooms with decision makers and get things done. I hope to do the same in my legal career. This summer I have the pleasure of seeing the legal standards that protect the environment in action and of participating in campaigns that ensure those standards have teeth. Like farming, law is both challenging and rewarding, and I am excited to take my first steps in this field with PennFuture.  

Timothy Wolff, a rising third-year law evening student at the University of Maryland, Francis King Carey School of Law. Mr. Wolff is working with Rob Altenburg on energy and climate issues, including PA’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) plan. 

I grew up on a rural Columbia County dairy farm.  Tucked among the state's rolling hills and close to natural treasures like Ricketts Glen State Park, I developed a deep appreciation for the area's scenic beauty. After college, I spent several years working for a renewable energy company in Lebanon County. Our work not only added badly-needed jobs to the region and produced environmental benefits, but strengthened the balance sheets of our customers' farms and rural small businesses.

I care about environmental issues because having a world that can continually provide food, housing, and resources in the quantities necessary to sustain our communities while population continues to climb is huge challenge that affects everyone. Invention and transformation are hallmarks of the American economy, and I feel that there is a great deal of opportunity to both move us towards a sustainable path while promoting economic prosperity.

Richard Marcil, a rising third-year law student at Widener Law School. Mr. Marcil is working with both me and Rob on matters ranging from developing the federal policy initiative for the Reimagine Appalachia collaboration to researching energy and climate issues for our Energy Center.

Everyone has a right to clean air, water, and soil. Environmental law is the toolbox with which we protect these rights. But environmental law does more than just safeguard human health and wellness. It also protects animals, their habitats, and ecosystems. It ensures we can grow healthy food in a sustainable manner. And it helps us secure economic prosperity. At a time when climate change is accelerating and federal regulators are rolling back environmental rules and enforcement efforts, the work PennFuture is doing to fight for these rights and benefits is more vital now than ever.

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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