A few months ago, we highlighted Squire Patton Boggs’ innovative pro bono model, the Public Service Initiative. Today we’re happy to report on another of Squire Patton Boggs’ pro bono successes: the ongoing restoration of the Anacostia River. Beginning in 2005, Russ Randle (then of Patton Boggs) began working with DC Appleseed on the rehabilitation of the Anacostia River following years of degradation through sewage runoff and storm overflows. The river lost the ability to cleanse itself and had become a danger to the community and environment.
On September 16th, DC Appleseed celebrated its 20th Anniversary and as part of the celebration honored Squire Patton Boggs (and others!) for its work supporting DC’s revitalization, in particular the Anacostia River Restoration. A few weeks ago, I spoke with Russ about Squire Patton Boggs’ work on the restoration and his work with DC Appleseed over the past 9 years.
Working with DC Appleseed and the National Resources Defense Council, Patton Boggs initially focused on a series of projects setting standards for the Anacostia Water Development Zone. The standards were among the most advanced in the country and eventually became a template for the EPA’s Storm Water Development plan. Subsequently, Russ led a group of pro bono attorneys from Patton Boggs, Covington & Burling, and Weil, Gotshal & Manges on a report examining regulatory and legal accomplishments in the restoration and identifying remaining gaps and how to fill them. (For a great summary of the report, watch Brooke DeRenzis of DC Appleseed and Russ present on it!)
The report highlighted that restoration would improve recreation and natural wildlife in the surrounding areas and eventually lead to a swimmable and fishable river. In addition, the implementation of green infrastructure would produce new jobs and business opportunities in economically struggling Northeast and Southeast Washington, D.C. In addition, it recommended that a partnership between the Federal and local governments on cleanup (at $2 local for every $ federal) and to focus on incentivizing the retrofitting of waterfront homes through tax credits and waterfront commercial properties through tax relief (e.g. property taxes) and streamlined permitting. Many toxins, including legacy toxins from decades old discharges (that are hence not covered under the Clean Water Act), pollute the river, creating ecological concerns and serving as a potential danger to the local community.
These toxins are especially problematic for fishing and this potential danger was of particular concern to Russ. While working on the report, he was particularly struck by the widespread consumption of fish from the Anacostia River despite the numerous signs and notices warning against it. Warnings are ineffective for those with food security concerns and they are also often the most vulnerable if they get sick. Since the report, Squire Patton Boggs has focused its efforts on toxin and sediment cleanup, working through the District Department of the Environment and on legislation from the DC Council.
Russ’ work with DC Appleseed was a continuation of a career full of pro bono and environmental work. Inspired by his time with the Scouts, Russ went to law school so he could work in environmental law. His wealth of experience from paid matters has made him uniquely situated to assist with pro bono environmental causes, for example identifying less commonly used legal strategies. In addition to working with Appleseed since 2005, Russ has represented asylum seekers, worked on human rights in Sudan and South Sudan, and helped incorporate and obtain the tax emption for the League of Conservation Voters’s 501(3) education arm in 1984.