CLASP’s Early Roots in Environmental Advocacy

By Jim Barnes

When I graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1970, CLASP’s innovative internship program was already a topic of conversation there. I wondered how I could participate in this new experiment. After graduation I clerked for U.S. District Court Judge John Pratt in Washington, D.C., and fortuitously met several CLASP staff.

Against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s and 70s, Atlantic Richfield discovered oil on the North Slope of Alaska, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) was formed to exploit and move it south. In 1970, Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), providing a way for the public to challenge projects with significant environmental impacts. TAPS and the Department of Interior were moving very quickly to build the pipeline and conducted a thread-bare environmental analysis.

On behalf of the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Defense Fund, CLASP challenged the pipeline in federal court, under the guiding hand of Dennis Flannery, who was seconded from Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering. Victor Kramer, a retired lawyer from Arnold and Porter was our grey eminence, helping us immeasurably with the litigation. Alaskan Inuits also challenged the project, and CLASP worked closely with their lawyers. The District Court granted a temporary injunction in light of the limited initial environmental impact analysis about the route.

After finishing my clerkship, I was hired as a member of the CLASP litigation team. It was an amazing and formative experience to work on that seminal case with so many talented people. Dennis led our small litigation team, which included Sandy Hillyer, in researching different theories for the lawsuit and preparing detailed analysis of dozens of environmental issues. Sandy and I worked to refine our arguments with a counter team of experts, who were all volunteers as we had no funds to pay them. The Final Environmental Impact Statement, which comprised nine volumes and about 3,500 pages, included many of our materials and arguments, but still concluded the pipeline should be approved.

CLASP and the Inuits filed a 1,300-page memorandum challenging that conclusion, but Judge Hart ruled that Alyeska Pipeline (formerly TAPS) and the government had fulfilled their legal burden, lifting his injunction on August 15, 1972. We filed an appeal, and while not addressing the substantial NEPA claims, the Court of Appeals accepted our argument that the Minerals Leasing Act restricted the width of the pipeline corridor on October 6, 1972. It granted an injunction, which was appealed to the Supreme Court by Alyeska, the state of Alaska, and the Interior Department. The Supreme Court declined to consider the case in April 1973. It seemed to be a great victory.

But the action moved quickly to Congress, where Alaska Senator Gravel proposed legislation to overrule the Court of Appeals decision by amending the Minerals Leasing Act and declaring that the project met NEPA’s requirements. Despite a hard-fought debate, the Senate ultimately tied 49 to 49. In one of his final acts before resigning in disgrace and going to jail, Vice-President Spiro Agnew cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the project. Perhaps the only saving grace was that because of CLASP’s lawsuit, the pipeline design was changed radically to be much safer.

After leaving the Center for a short time, I returned in 1977 to work as a staff attorney with the International Project under Leonard Meeker’s leadership. As a long-time State Department lawyer and Ambassador to Romania, Leonard taught me how to navigate the corridors of power in Washington to address important environmental, consumer, and human rights issues.

I was privileged to be invited onto the Antarctic, Law of the Sea, and Marine Pollution Public Advisory Committees, following President Carter’s endorsement for using them for all important negotiations. I represented the views of environmental organizations and helped negotiate several international treaties including UNCLOS, and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. That led to my deep interest in Antarctic protection, on which I’ve spent the past 40 years. I founded the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition (ASOC) in 1978, and CLASP served as its headquarters for the next few years.

As a staff member and co-executive director, I was associated with CLASP until 1982. That year we began spinning off a number of the projects, including Women’s Rights (which became the National Women’s Law Center), Mental Health Project (now the Bazelon Center), Mine Health and Safety, Media Access and the Antarctica Project, which I incorporated later that year. Joe Onek helped me secure 501(c)(3) status from the IRS for ASOC, which remains the global public voice for protecting the Antarctic today.

CLASP’s first decade laid the foundation for robust public interest advocacy on a wide range of issues. It was a great privilege to be associated with the CLASP team, who inspired me and taught me so much.