Join us in welcoming our new staff member, Clara Goodwin, BCWK’s Legal Fellow.
What is the last waterbody that you visited?
It was probably Willow Waterhole in Westbury. My parents neighborhood backs up on the Waterhole, which is a series of retention ponds that have been turned back into natural wetland habitat with walking trails around them. I like to wander along the little bayou that carries water to the ponds from Braes Bayou and see all the waterbirds and hawks. I regularly see egrets, herons, cormorants, osprey, hawks, flycatchers, and even roseate spoonbills.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in Houston and stayed for college so I have lived here my whole life except the last three years when I left for law school. I have always been pretty aware of climate and pollution issues and my grandfather was actually involved in environmental activism back in the 60s and 70s, but my family is all in music and the arts so that is kind of where I started. I got a degree in music history and theater and worked on opera and theater as a stage manager and director for a while after college. But I kept coming back to environmental justice because I kept seeing more and more examples of environmental injustices around me: the impact of flooding in low-income communities, refinery fires, chemical spills, cancer clusters, Dupont dumping over 7,000 tons of toxic chemicals into the local water in West Virginia, it never seemed to end. After a couple years of electoral politics, I decided I needed to go to law school if I really wanted to do something about environmental justice in Houston, so that is exactly what I did. And somehow this job came along just at the moment when I was graduating and I got it, I could not be more lucky than to have found the one job doing the work I went to law school to do in the place I have called home my entire life.
What part of your job do you think you will nerd out about?
Who are we kidding, I am a nerd, I will nerd out about all of it. A lot of my law school friends have concluded that I have one or two screws loose, but I get very excited about administrative law and the regulatory process. I think administrative agencies are one of the most interesting and important aspect of our government. And the public comment process in agency rulemaking is the only place in our system where we as citizens have the opportunity for direct input on how we think policy should be written and what needs we think it should address. Every other aspect of our democracy requires us to rely on elected officials to advocate for our needs and be the voice in the room, but when we submit a comment on a rule or attend a public hearing with a state agency, that agency has to listen and respond directly to us.
How do you think your work as the Legal Fellow will impact our community?
I hope that my work will lead to sources of water pollution being cleaned up so that the community has more access to clean water and less exposure to pollution. Bigger picture, I would like to work towards a Houston that has more green space with safe, swimmable water, more wetlands, and less development in floodplains. The people of Houston deserve a positive relationship with water that they can enjoy recreationally, rather than living in fear of water as a source of toxic exposure and flooding.
Why is Houston special?
Houston is special to me primarily because it is the only place that has every truly been my home. But I also think it is one of the most underrated cities in the country. Houston is a place that has space for a lot of ideas and a lot of identities. Whatever kind of art you want to make, there is a space for it (and maybe some experimental theater or small gallery to support it). Whatever kind of food you want to cook, you can find the ingredients. Whoever you are, you can find a community. And despite being a huge, spread out city, Houston is the kind of place where you will always run into someone you know or make a new friend.