News

Keeping it clean

6/25/12

This story appears in the School of Law’s Summer 2012 Mag­a­zine. It was written by free­lancer Tracey Palmer.

Emily Rochon, L’13, likes a clean fight, but she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty for a good cause.

As a cli­mate and energy cam­paigner for Green­peace Inter­na­tional for three years before coming to Northeastern, she took on the global coal industry. In 2008, she authored the first com­pre­hen­sive cri­tique of carbon cap­ture and storage — the industry’s pro­posed tech­nique for cleaning up pol­luting coal plants and slowing cli­mate change.

“I always like taking on the big guys,” said Rochon, a Rhode Island native who earned two under­grad­uate degrees — in biology and envi­ron­mental studies. “I like causing trouble, but this time we have the truth and the facts on our side.”

Using CCS, coal industry sci­en­tists say they can take carbon dioxide out of a smoke stack once it’s been burned, turn it into a fluid, then pump it into under­ground storage tanks where it will safely stay for thousands, if not mil­lions, of years. Rochon’s research sug­gests that “clean coal” is nothing more than a slogan aimed at green­washing a dirty energy source. To date, no “clean-​​coal” plant that buries carbon has suc­cess­fully been constructed.

“And to make it work, they’d have to build a mas­sive pipeline system, pass all sorts of new laws and figure out how to deal with the long-​​term lia­bility,” said Rochon, a recip­ient of the law school’s pres­ti­gious, full-​​time Public Interest Law Schol­ar­ship. “The tech­nology isn’t going any­where right now.”

Her find­ings put Green­peace at the leading edge of the debate and earned Rochon, who holds a master’s degree in envi­ron­mental tox­i­cology, a global rep­u­ta­tion as one of only a handful of envi­ron­men­tal­ists voicing cred­ible oppo­si­tion to CCS. But as she pro­ceeded with her advo­cacy work, which included drafting text for leg­is­la­tion and inter­na­tional treaties, Rochon real­ized that without formal legal edu­ca­tion, she couldn’t be effective.

“You always need someone to go out there first and say ‘no,’” she said. “Now I want to deter­mine if there are existing laws we can use to shut these plants down.”

Like many North­eastern law stu­dents, Rochon wasn’t inter­ested in putting her career and pro­fes­sional passion on hold for three years of class­room dis­cus­sions. With co-​​ops at the National Envi­ron­mental Law Center in Boston and Green­peace in Boston and Wash­ington, D.C., she has been able to both hone her skills and actively con­tribute to the envi­ron­mental causes she believes in.

“My plan for my next co-​​op is to work in state-​​level energy policy, then return to the inter­na­tional environmental policy arena,” she explained.

In these front line posi­tions, Rochon will con­tinue to fight against dirty energy sources. With a law degree in hand, she knows she has a better chance of helping coun­tries and indus­tries come clean and adopt more viable, renew­able technologies.