My Experience as Environmental Justice Legal Fellow at PRKN

Najah Louis

The environmental justice fellowship at PRKN, funded by Dan Murrin, gave me first-hand experience on what it is like working at a non-profit that is dedicated to protecting the Potomac and communities across the DMV area that utilize its waters for recreation and as a source for drinking water. Through various interactions and discussions with the president of PRKN, Nancy Stoner, I was introduced to a vast network of attorneys and community leaders who are deeply invested in remedying issues involving lack of access to clean water. Speaking with environmental advocates about these matters was sobering but exciting. While there is much work to be done to protect our natural waters from pollution, I was imbued with the sense that I, like the people I spoke to, could make meaningful changes in communities whose water sources have been affected by polluting industries and facilities. 

I was assigned to draft various memoranda and other legal documents during the fellowship, which greatly bolstered my legal writing and research skills. Conducting compliance sweeps and completing legal projects were some of the most invaluable experiences I have had while working at PRKN as a fellow. Under the guidance and tutelage of Vice President of Programs and Litigation, Phillip Musegaas, I learned how to enforce environmental laws through litigation and provide support to small businesses that may not have the capacity to come into compliance with environmental regulations. I found this dual approach to advocacy fascinating and efficient. Without a doubt, legal enforcement through litigation is the most effective way to get facilities to abide by environmental laws. Still, I learned it is not the only way to encourage smaller facilities to abide by the environmental regulations outlined in their permits.

I enjoyed the sense of community I felt at PRKN. The organization is run with integrity and is made up of people who are dedicated to keeping the Potomac clean and safe for anyone who chooses to get on the water. Working with the staff, board members, and volunteers on projects immediately let me know that I was a part of a team dedicated to a positive, common goal. I was also given an avenue to work with local community leaders through PRKN’s partnerships with environmental and social justice organizations such as the Sierra Club and NAACP. Working at PRKN as an Environmental Justice Fellow has given me life-long skills that I will use throughout my legal career.

— Najah Louis