Michael Becher is a 2007 graduate of UC Law.
I came to UC Law with a very precise idea of what I wanted to do with my degree, but a great deal of uncertainty as to whether I would ever get there. I spent the two years between undergrad and law school working with non-profit community groups in West Virginia. My job was to work as a liaison for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to help these groups institute small scale environmental improvement projects on a local level. While it was rewarding work, I often felt that I lacked the tools to address the more complicated issues these groups were facing. In the coal fields of southern West Virginia especially, residents complained of significant environmental harms affecting their everyday lives. People in Dorothy, West Virginia, for example, spoke of having to wash their windows every day to clean off dust from passing coal trucks. Some showed me cracks in their home’s foundations from blasting damage; others drank only bottled water for fear of contaminated wells. These kinds of problems motivated me to attend law school in the hope of making a bigger difference.
During my time at the College of Law my interest in both environmental law and public service matured. From Professor Brad Mank I learned the contours of environmental law; many others taught me skills to become an effective advocate. Thanks to the Public Interest Law Group I was able to take two unpaid internships during my first and second summers, gaining first-hand experience in the work I hoped to one day pursue full time. I returned each summer to West Virginia to work for the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, a leader in the fight for environmental justice in central Appalachia.
After moving back to West Virginia and working as a law clerk for the last few years, I recently learned that I will be receiving funding to pursue the work which motivated me to go back to school in the first place. Through a grant from the Philip M. Stern Foundation and Equal Justice Works, I’ll have a two-year fellowship at the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment – the same organization at which I spent my law school summers. My work will focus on alleviating some of the more egregious effects of coal mining on local residents and communities. By providing legal services to affected individuals, I plan to address many of the problems I felt unequipped to address without a law degree – ensuring people have a safe place to live and clean water to drink. Through challenges to existing regulation, particularly mine reclamation rules, I hope to both reduce environmental impacts of the mining industry and build a better, more sustainable future for surrounding communities. The work ahead is certain to be a challenge, but thanks to UC Law I now know that I have the necessary education and training to pursue it.
What is the Equal Justice Works Fellowship?
The Equal Justice Works Fellowship Program creates partnerships among public interest lawyers, nonprofit organizations, law firm/corporate sponsors and other donors in order to afford underrepresented populations effective access to the justice system. For more information, visit http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/programs/fellowships/general.