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When he arrived on his first day as director of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law’s new environmental law clinic, Tom Buchele said his voice mail light was already blinking with complaints. As opposition by politicians, developers and alumni to the clinic’s work — involving opposition to logging operations in the Allegheny National Forest and expressway construction — quickly snowballed, the University of Pittsburgh tried last fall to force the clinic off campus. But in a surprising shift, the university announced in mid-March that it would continue to house and support the clinic on campus, using private funds. Environmental law clinics across the country have been facing similar pressure as they regularly challenge large industries like oil, coal and logging in ways that can be costly for corporations. After business interests failed to deter the environmental law clinic at Tulane University School of Law from representing a community group opposed to construction of a chemical plant, the Louisiana Supreme Court stepped in to curb the clinic’s ability to represent plaintiffs by imposing strict income standards that its clients be below the poverty level. In Oregon, the environmental clinic at the University of Oregon’s School of Law chose to move off campus and become a nonprofit in the early 1990s as a result of controversy around its work challenging the logging industry. At the University of Pittsburgh’s law school, the controversy began in earnest when students started assisting opponents to logging in the Allegheny National Forest. State legislators demanded that professors, Buchele in particular, be fired. In June, the state legislature amended the university’s appropriations bill to bar the university from using government money to fund the clinic. Buchele, a former litigation partner at Chicago’s Jenner & Block, said pressure continued to build as the clinic took on representation of a local environmental group that opposed construction of the Mon Valley/Fayette Expressway in Pittsburgh because of the environmental impact, among other reasons. In October, Buchele said, he was surprised to receive a bill for $62,000 for the cost to the university of housing the clinic. Buchele said the clinic would have had trouble raising that money privately because the university limited who the clinic could speak to in order to raise funds. The assessments would have caused the clinic to close in a year and a half. Last November, the university chancellor, Mark Nordenberg, sent a memo to faculty saying that the clinic’s role within the law school was not working. The memo suggested that it should be pushed off campus. Law school Dean David Herring said of the university’s recent decision to support the clinic, “At some point you have to stand by your principles. You have to stand up for academic freedom and the principles of our profession and teach your students by model behavior.” Neither Joseph Scarnati, the state senator who brought the legislation denying the clinic state money, nor supreme court Justice Ralph Cappy, who criticized the clinic’s operation and clients, could be reached for comment about the decision. Joseph P. Kirk, executive director of the Mon Valley Progress Council, a nonprofit business organization, said he does not oppose the law clinic or the university’s support of it, but he is critical of the clinic’s decision to take on clients who oppose the freeway construction. “We feel they’ve positioned themselves into an advocacy position on a public policy issue,” he asserted.

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