Texas Public Interest Environmental Conference

Bayou City Waterkeeper
December 5, 2023

This piece was authored by BCWK’s Legal Fellow, Clara Goodwin. Learn more about Clara here

Building legal community and community connections at the Texas Environmental Justice Law Conference

Bayou City Waterkeeper  co-hosted the annual Texas Public Interest Environmental Conference, including community sessions on environmental justice, at Texas Southern University’s (TSU) Thurgood Marshall School of Law alongside Earthjustice, Public Citizen, and TSU this fall. Over two days, lawyers, organizers, and community advocates met to share and learn from each other. In addition to hearing from many Texas-based attorneys, we had speakers from as far away as Missouri, Florida, and Vermont, and a panel with the Texas-based members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and founders of T.e.j.a.s. (Texas environmental justice advocacy services). 

Public interest lawyers work on behalf of the public, advocating for the priorities of a community or enforcing regulations meant to promote public safety rather than representing private clients and corporate interests. Public interest lawyers generally work for nonprofits, community groups, or government agencies. The Public Interest Environmental Law Conference is an opportunity to learn more about niche environmental topics, with a focus on public interest lawyering, as well as an important opportunity to build professional networks and regional collaboration. Here are some of my reflections on the conference as a recent law school graduate returning home to Houston to practice. 

  • Connecting with lawyer community and learning alongside each other

 One of the things that became clear very quickly studying environmental law is the degree of interconnection between environmental issues. Collaboration with attorneys working on other aspects of the same environmental issues or at other organizations is critical for our work at BCWK. The conference was an opportunity to learn from the successes and challenges of other organizations, discuss the implications of recent legislation and supreme court rulings, and build connections within the environmental advocacy community. Especially as a very new attorney, this was also an opportunity for me to meet many of the people I have been working with over the past few months in person for the first time, and to reconnect with my mentors in Harris County Attorney’s Office where I had my first legal internship.

  • Connecting community members with lawyers and learning from each other in shared sessions

This is the first time community members have been invited to participate in a full day of sessions focused on environmental justice across our region. As Houstonians, we all suffer the impacts of environmental issues such as water pollution and flooding—my own experience of flooding and pollution are what made me choose to go to law school in the first place—but we are not all suffering these impacts equally so it is important to center the needs of frontline communities in our work. That is why I think it was so important that the conference included this day of shared sessions with community members, leaders, and organizers. From my perspective, my job is always to support the needs of the community I serve. These sessions were an opportunity for community members to learn more about the legal landscape and the legal tools available to support community needs, in addition to ensuring the experiences and concerns of organizers and community members advocating for environmental justice were part of the conversation.  

  • Hearing from government lawyers on priorities

Government lawyers also play an important role in addressing environmental justice issues in our communities and my work often dovetails with the work of agencies and enforcement bodies. Panels with attorneys from the environmental division at the Harris County Attorney’s Office and Region 6 of the Environmental Protection Agency were very helpful because I was able to learn more about the priorities of these offices and how those priorities might support the community’s goals. It also helped me understand the limitations of these government bodies and how those limits could inform my work as a Legal Fellow at Bayou City Waterkeeper.



Bayou City Waterkeeper’s work to support the Texas Public Interest Environmental Law conference supports its strategic objective to “Strengthen regional legal capacity to address water injustices, through increased internal capacity, external collaboration, and engagement with lawyers and law students, to build community power and create opportunities to implement community-driven policy goals.”


Bayou City Waterkeeper supports the Texas Public Interest Environmental Law Conference annually. To learn more about what we have planned for 2024 or to join our steering committee, contact our Legal Director Kristen Schlemmer at kristen@bayoucitywaterkeeper.org