Midwest Environmental Advocates formally began its efforts in 1999 as the result of the determination of founder Melissa Scanlan— an individual with strong roots in Wisconsin and the desire to establish an organization to provide legal representation, education, and empowerment to people that could not afford it. Following the destruction of the Public Intervenor’s Office in 1995, there was a consensus within the environmental public interest law community that the loss had created a significant void of advocacy and legal assistance. In her last year of law and graduate school at UC Berkeley, Scanlan successfully earned two fellowships to launch the organization. Although Scanlan was a newcomer to the community of environmental lawyers, the strength of her proposal was affirmed by enthusiastic support from Arlen Christenson and Tom Dawson, support from the Indigenous Environmental Network, Clean Wisconsin (formerly Wisconsin's Environmental Decade), sport fishing and hunting groups, and seed funding from Equal Justice Works and Echoing Green.
Beginning the first day Midwest Environmental Advocates opened its door, there has been extensive collaboration between staff, law clerks, and citizens in Wisconsin. As the only environmental nonprofit organization attorney at the time, Scanlan formed an advisory board of attorneys. This network acted as a sounding board for selecting effective, strategic cases. Eventually, Midwest Environmental Advocates transitioned to a board of directors with a broader skill base that continues to diversify under the current Executive Director, Kimberlee Wright’s guidance. In a similar manner, the organization’s UW-Madison Law School externship became an integral part of the collaborative architecture of the organization. The externship program, which grew to recruit law students nationally, has carried on the idea of an equitable learning experience by giving participants valuable responsibilities and opportunities. Today, the organization continues to work with an internal and external network of support in order to comprehensively pursue cases and initiatives.
In addition to providing legal assistance to people in Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates has prioritized educating and empowering citizens. Lawyers within the organization work to build the power of grassroots community movements by equipping people with necessary skills and connecting them to a network of local leaders throughout Wisconsin. Over the years, Midwest Environmental Advocates has partnered with numerous community and citizen led organizations with the intent of defending the belief that citizens voices matter. Indeed, these partnerships have highlighted the effectiveness of community-‐to-‐community support and advocacy.