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IN-HOUSE COUNSEL ALEX LEVINSON, SIERRA CLUB Title: Director of the Environmental Law Program Age: 42 THE ORGANIZATION The mission of the 600,000-member Sierra Club, founded in 1892, includes enlisting the public’s help to protect the earth’s natural resources “using all lawful means.” In addition to its aggressive lobbying and political work, it is “the grassroots army of the environmental movement,” says Levinson, meaning the Sierra Club has always depended to a large degree on state chapters to sniff out and pursue causes for litigation. CURRENT LITIGATION On June 2, the Sierra Club filed suit in federal court in western Oklahoma against Seaboard Corp., which Levinson says is one of the largest operators of factory farms — enormous chicken-, cow- or hog-raising facilities that are blamed for polluting ground and surface water with animal waste. The Sierra Club is suing Seaboard for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act. Although they have retained local counsel, Levinson and his staff are the lead litigators. The Sierra Club is gearing up for a large-scale political, public education and legal campaign against factory farms, which Levinson calls “vassals” of corporate agribusiness, although many are nominally family-owned. “This is not Old MacDonald’s farm,” Levinson says, adding that the typical factory farm hog can generate up to five times the waste a human produces in his or her lifetime. “I think in the next three years we’ll have at least 10 cases and maybe, more likely, 30 cases, going in this area,” he says, explaining that his department and a stable of public-interest and private lawyers expect to bring cases under the Clean Water Act and by more experimental approaches, such as nuisance laws, the Clean Air Act and applicable state laws. He says that the Sierra Club will choose farm cases with an eye to advancing the law rather than just picking sure winners. Down the road, says Levinson, the club might also take aim at large slaughterhouses and their disposal of animal remains. THE DEPARTMENT Levinson, the Sierra Club’s senior staff lawyer, says, “I have a general oversight responsibility for all of the environmental litigation the Sierra Club is involved in.” His three-lawyer department reports to the volunteer Litigation Committee, which has formal approval authority for litigation-related issues (although it normally accedes to Levinson’s recommendations regarding filings and settlements). Levinson is responsible for planning litigation strategies with local chapters and their outside counsel, as well as persuading chapters not to file in certain cases, usually because of the risk of dangerous legal precedent or odious public relations fallout. He also keeps national staff and committees up to date on the approximately 100 cases filed annually in the Sierra Club’s name. His department meets yearly with the Litigation Committee, which consists of seven private attorneys, to review the club’s litigation program. Levinson is not involved with the Sierra Club’s business issues. BIGGER STAFF Since 1997, Levinson has been devising and helping to plan a restructuring of his department that will add up to eight new lawyers and, for the first time, make in-house litigation a regular feature of the Environmental Law Program. He says that the change was conceived to make his department more of a legal “nerve center,” and to permit it to plan and coordinate strategy more closely with a hand-picked team of outside counsel on cases in the Sierra Club’s four priority battlegrounds: urban sprawl, factory farms, logging in national forests and Clean Water Act loopholes. In addition to helping assemble the team of lawyers, Levinson might litigate some cases himself (as he did against the U.S. Forest Service in 1999). “If we do this well,” he says of his revamped department, “we’ll be a much more effective environmental litigator.” One member of his current staff, Senior Attorney Patrick Gallagher, was hired to help implement the new program. The department will continue to work with state chapters on their cases. HAWAII LITIGATION In April, the club’s Hawaii chapter, using a novel legal strategy based on Hawaii’s analog to the National Environmental Policy Act, filed suit in state Supreme Court to block a state plan to increase tourism until an assessment of the plan’s environmental impact is made. (NEPA requires federal agencies to do environmental impact studies before approving projects.) Levinson and staff attorney Aaron Isherwood helped the chapter and outside counsel develop the case and analyze its legal and all-important public relations implications. “It doesn’t make sense for us to bring suits that are legally solid but are going to lose the public debate,” Levinson says. That said, the Sierra Club isn’t averse to bucking public opinion in the right cause, he adds. The suit has provoked controversy in tourism-dependent Hawaii, and fears of similar lawsuits in other states — fears Levinson thinks “are way overstated.” SUING THE FEDS The Sierra Club is also part of a coalition of environmental organizations that filed suit in federal district court in Washington, D.C., in May against the Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Highway Administration and the Fish and Wildlife Service for allegedly rubber-stamping dozens of development projects in the Florida panther habitat. “They’re piecemealing the panther literally to extinction,” says Levinson. The case was brought by National Wildlife Federation lawyers, with whom Levinson consulted as it was developed. It tests use of the Endangered Species Act to force government agencies to measure the cumulative impact of projects they approve in the habitats of endangered or threatened animals. “Protection of endangered species is among the issues that most motivated me to become an environmental lawyer,” he says. ROUTE TO THE TOP A third-generation native of Bayonne, N.J., Levinson graduated from Harvard University in 1981 with a degree in psychology. He worked in a molecular biology lab while pondering careers in science or public-interest work. Settling on the latter, he attended Stanford University Law School, graduating in 1987. He did criminal defense trial work for what is now Nolan, Armstrong & Barton, in Palo Alto, Calif., between volunteer positions on two political campaigns, including Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential run, before joining the Sierra Club in 1991 as its first in-house lawyer. Levinson says that environmental law, never before an abiding interest, became more compelling because he thought environmental decisions with a long shelf life were being made. His department added a second lawyer in 1994. FAMILY Levinson and his wife, Kimberly Muth, have a 3-year-old son, Paul. OUTSIDE INTERESTS As befitting a Sierra Club employee, Levinson enjoys hiking. He likes to travel, and he plays basketball, the piano and skat, a “complicated, chesslike German card game.” LAST BOOK READ “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,” by Nathan Englander.

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