For The Record

At two different decision points in her life, assistant professor Danielle Stokes, ’13, chose the University of Richmond as the right place for her to be.

The first came in high school as she decided where to go to college. She picked Richmond and majored in PPEL (philosophy, politics, economics, and law). Her academic success propelled her to law school at the University of Virginia and then a position with McGuireWoods working in land use and real estate law.

But a life in academia beckoned the self-described “people person.” She reasoned that it would offer a fitting balance between independent work, which she got in abundance in corporate practice, and a collaborative, people-focused environment, which she wanted more of.

“Not to mention, I think the level of impact is just very different,” she said.

Stokes took a position as a faculty fellow at Syracuse University School of Law to experience academia firsthand and then made an unforeseen but familiar move — back to Richmond, this time as a member of the Richmond Law faculty. She teaches and writes about property, environmental law, and environmental justice with a focus on sustainability and equity in land use planning.

“When we think about things like climate change and climate adaptation, it’s very important that part of the conversation is an acknowledgement of historical policies and injustices that led to certain groups and areas being marginalized,” she said. Examples include discriminatory lending practices that led to underdeveloped neighborhoods and unequal distribution of landfills and other locally unwanted land uses. “It may not have been targeted and purposeful in the language, but that was the effect.”

Renewable energy projects are key to mitigating climate change, but their details are complicated. The patchwork of overlapping local, state, and federal jurisdictions makes it difficult to develop large-scale projects, such as wind and solar farms. In a forthcoming article, Stokes recommends the creation of a centralized federal agency to streamline the regulatory process or to identify strategies and promising locations for projects and assist developers with the regulatory process at the various levels of government. She also considers the equity question — ensuring that local communities have meaningful input into what gets put in their backyards.

“I know there’s a tension there, and that’s what the proposal is balancing,” she said. “But we should also recognize that with climate change, we may not be here to have this debate if we don’t make changes very quickly. So many states have reduction goals by 2030, 2040, or 2050, but if it takes five to seven years for a project from start to finish, how do we hit those targets and ensure that the costs and benefits are balanced equitably within communities?”