Photo: Clifford Villa

Clifford Villa

Professor of Law


  • B.A., University of New Mexico
  • J.D., Lewis & Clark Law School
  • Member, Oregon State Bar
  • Member, Washington State Bar Association

Contact Information

 Ph.: 505-277-5664
 Office: 3235


Professor Villa brings extensive practice experience to the UNM law school community, having served for 22 years as legal counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, first with EPA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and later with EPA Regional offices in Denver, Colorado, and Seattle, Washington. Over time, his EPA practice included administrative, civil, and criminal enforcement of federal laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. For the last eight years of his practice, Professor Villa served as legal officer for the EPA's emergency response program, providing on-call legal assistance for federal responses to hazardous waste sites, oil spills, natural disasters, and other major concerns.

In 2006, Professor Villa joined the adjunct faculty at Seattle University School of Law, where he taught courses in environmental law and developed new courses including Disaster Law. As a lawyer and academic, he has spoken at conferences throughout the United States as well as in Spain and Latin America, and he has published scholarly work in places including the Harvard Environmental Law Review and the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law.

As a federal attorney, Professor Villa received multiple awards for commendable service from the EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice. In 2008, recognizing his contributions to public service as both an attorney and educator, he received the Modelo de Excelencia award from the Latina/o Bar Association of Washington. In 2009, Professor Villa was honored with the Outstanding Adjunct Faculty Award from Seattle University School of Law. In 2013, he received the Distinguished Environmental Law Graduate award from Lewis & Clark Law School.

Professor Villa received his J.D.. from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, and his B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of New Mexico. He was born and raised in Albuquerque, with local roots tracing back to the Atrisco Land Grant of 1692.

In the News


Constitutional Rights

This course involves an in-depth inquiry into the building blocks of civil rights law; freedom of expression (speech and press), equal protection, due process, and religious freedom. There will be discussion of litigation strategy and the decision-making processes of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Environmental Law Survey

This course is designed to give students an introductory working knowledge of the major federal environmental laws addressing toxic substances, waste management, air pollution, water pollution, environmental impact assessment, and biodiversity. Some of these laws are implemented by state regulatory agencies (e.g., the New Mexico Environment Department) and have state law counterparts. Fundamentally, environmental regulation reflects a delicate balance among conflicting ecological, social justice and economic values. Active citizen involvement presents challenges to technology-oriented regulatory agencies. Scientific uncertainty and the global scale of climate disruption also present special complications. This course will examine these and other contemporary issues in environmental regulation.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: Students will: (a) understand how the different environmental laws are structured and the range of regulatory strategies they use to address environmental problems; (b) learn to recognize actionable “triggers” under various regulatory regimes; and (c) be familiar with the regulatory processes that could pertain to the plans and actions of a potential client.

Environmental Justice, Climate, and Disasters Seminar

What is “environmental justice?” How does it relate to climate change? And what do either of these two concepts have to do with disasters? Increasingly, legal scholars and practitioners are recognizing the connections among these three areas of concern, breaking down conceptual boundaries and synthesizing new fields of inquiry, such as “climate justice” and, most recently, “disaster justice.” Together, all three of these “justice” concerns recognize that environmental problems may impose disparate impacts on vulnerable segments of a population. Each of these concerns may find their roots or exacerbation in common bases, such as poverty, land use, or energy policy. Similarly, each of these concerns may also find commonality of solutions, such as community engagement, contingency planning, and creative application of environmental laws.

This course will introduce students to the foundational legal frameworks concerning environmental justice, climate change, and disaster response. In the process, students will develop analytical skills to identify related legal issues and potential legal solutions in order to serve clients and promote justice in an era of changing climate and increasing threats from a variety of natural and manmade disasters. Students will also refine their skills in written and oral communications, ensuring their readiness for the practice of law and related pursuits.

Environmental Enforcement

"Ultimately, enforcement of the law is what really counts." Evans v. Jeff D., 475 U.S. 717, 743 (1986) (Brennan, J., dissenting).

Environmental Enforcement takes students beyond what environmental law is to how it is applied. The course introduces students to the major mechanisms available to government agencies for enforcing environmental laws: administrative proceedings, civil litigation, and criminal prosecution. Enforcement by private plaintiffs through citizen suits will also be examined. Throughout the course, readings and discussions will focus on enforcement of major federal pollution statutes to protect land, air, water, and public health. Guest speakers will provide diverse perspectives from citizen plaintiffs, defense counsel, and others engaged in practice involving environmental enforcement. Through successful completion of Environmental Enforcement, students will become better prepared to represent any client, public or private, that may require legal counsel to address environmental violations. Students will also apply learning from many other courses and subject areas, including administrative law, constitutional law, civil procedure, criminal procedure, and evidence, as they work to solve problems through the practical context of environmental law. No prerequisites, but prior completion of Environmental Law and Administrative Law is recommended.

International Environmental Law

Acid rain, ozone depletion, marine pollution, species depletion, hazardous waste, global climate disruption – many of the most challenging environmental problems of our time cross political boundaries and require international cooperation to address. International Environmental Law will examine how elements of international law and institutions coordinate with domestic law, state actors, and non-governmental organizations in order to address environmental problems that reach beyond any one state’s capacity to solve. The course will also provide students with a practical foundation for engagement on these issues in their future practice of law.



Environmental Justice: Law, Policy & Regulation (2020) (co-authored with Eileen Gauna et al.).
Available at: UNM-DR

A Practical Introduction to Environmental Law (2017) (co-authored with Joel Mintz, Steve Gold, and Kalyani Robbins).
Available at: UNM-DR

O Papel do Direito e do Advogado no Sistema de Comando de Incidente, Estudos Aprofundados em Direito dos Desastres - Interfaces Comparadas (2013)
Available at: UNM-DR


No “Box to be Checked”: Environmental Justice in Modern Legal Practice, 30.2 NYU  ENVTL. L.J. 157 (2022).
Available at: UNM-DR

Remaking Environmental Justice, 66 LOY. L. REV. 469 (2020).
Available at: UNM-DR

Gold King Mine Spill: Environmental Law and Legal Protections for Environmental Responders, 2019 UTAH L. REV. 263 (2019).
Available at: UNM-DR

Is the "Act of God" Dead?, 7 WASH. J. ENVTL. L. & POL. 320 (2017).
Available at: UNM-DR

Fighting for Environmental Justice: The Life and Work of Professor Eileen Gauna, 57 NAT. RESOURCES J. 519 (2017).
Available at: UNM-DR

Law and Lawyers in the Incident Command System, 36 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 1855 (2013).
Available at: UNM-DR

Superfund vs. Mega-Sites: The Coeur d’Alene River Basin Story, 28 COLUM. J. ENVTL. Law 255 (2003).
Available at: UNM-DR

Cleaning Up the Tracks: Superfund Meets Rails-To-Trails, 25 HARVARD ENVTL. L. Rev. 481 (2001).
Available at: UNM-DR

California Dreaming: Water Transfers from the Pacific Northwest, 23 ENVTL. L. 997 (1993).
Available at: UNM-DR

Bar & Trade Publications

Adapting To a 4°C World, 52.10211 ENVTL. L. REP. (2022) (co-authored with Bork et al.).
Available at: SSRN

The Dawning of Disaster Law, 70 NW LAW. 36 (2016).
Available at: UNM-DR

Rising from the Ravages, THE LAW. (September 2014).

The Practice of Disaster Law, L. PRAC. TODAY (March 2012).
Available at: UNM-DR

Clear the Air: The Road Taken: A Reflection on Michael C. Blumm & William Warnock’s Roads Not Taken: EPA vs. Clean Water, 34 ENVTL. L. 809 (2004).
Available at: UNM-DR

Book Reviews

Jonathan P. Thompson's River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Green Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster (2018), 41 PUB. LAND & RESOURCES L. REV. 69 (2019).
Available at: UNM-DR

Popular Press

Es FEMA El Problema? Hurricane Maria and the Slow Road to Recovery in Puerto Rico, LEGAL PLANET (May 17, 2018).
Available at: UNM-DR

Flint Drinking Water Contamination: Frames of Reference, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL (April 13, 2016).
Available at: UNM-DR

Clearing Up Questions on River Spill, ALBUQUERQUE J. (August 13, 2015).

Available at: UNM-DR

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