Good change comes around. Alaska News Brief August 2023
It’s always good to have something to celebrate when new folks come around.
We welcomed Teresa Clemmer as our new legal director on August 1 and within a week got a great win in court when the U.S. District Court dismissed all claims in AIDEA v. Biden. The lawsuit brought by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority and State of Alaska attempted to undermine the Interior Department’s authority to suspend oil and gas leases and the profoundly flawed leasing program threatening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Read more about it here.)
Let’s just say that litigation takes a long, long time, and this court win came earlier than we expected, and gave us all a lift. Teresa isn’t new to Trustees or to environmental law, so she knows the work takes time and unending effort and that Trustees has a stellar track record in court. Still, it felt good to share that win with her so soon after her return.
Teresa first worked for us back in 2004 to 2007 as a staff attorney. I worked with her back then, but we were honestly more siloed in those days, each working on our own cases rather than collaborating in teams. I remember vividly being impressed about how Teresa could put her head down and write. For lawyers, writing is where so much of the thinking and creative stuff happens, where the intellectual effort touches the pathos of on-the-ground impacts on human and more-than-human beings, and where storytelling can find voice in the legal arena.
I know that putting my head down came less easily to me than Teresa. She would have an amazingly brilliant analysis in a quarter of the time it would have taken me—which is likely why I noticed with awe her ability to do it. Despite my own pokiness with writing, I know for sure that the focus required in that part of lawyering is how you learn where your legal strategy and argument is solid and where it has strayed. It’s how you know when you’ve found the way to prevail—if the judge(s) agrees, of course.
I admire that in Teresa, along with her curiosity about issues and people, and her openness and genuine care for others. Her experience has expanded greatly since back then.
When she left Trustees in 2007, she headed to Vermont where she took an associate professor position with the Vermont Law School. She taught environmental law classes, litigated, and administered the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic. She and her family later returned to Alaska, where she practiced as senior counsel for Bessenyey & Van Tuyn, LLC (Peter Van Tuyn is also a former Trustees attorney and litigation director), and more recently as the owner and manager of her own law office.
Her experience in environmental law is extensive in Alaska, including on issues around clean water and air, public land management, and the health of lands important to local communities and their ways of life. She has litigated in Alaska and other states, as well as in the First Circuit and Ninth Circuit courts of appeal.
There’s so much good to say about her experience, character, and way of being that it’s best to just say what it means to us right now. I am personally joyful and grateful to have her back with Trustees and to get to work with someone capable of so much curiosity, kindness, and creative and intellectual rigor. (On a selfish note, I’ve been doing two jobs for a while and look forward to having more space and time for big picture work and another person to do that work with—just as soon as I remember how to put my head down rather than trying to stay on top of the long to-do list!)
As an organization, Trustees can only get stronger and more effective by having such a thoughtful, compassionate, and gracious person in this role. I know our attorneys and staff look forward to her mentorship, guidance, and wisdom.
Good change always comes around, and Teresa’s return to Trustees is just that—good change within Trustees that will help us contribute to good change for a healthy Alaska and planet.
PS. Thanks to supporters like you, we can continue fighting to protect Alaska’s land, water, air, wildlife and people.