I’m unique among my peers. I came to law school with a fascination with the administrative state and a passion for regulatory reform. As an administrative law nerd at Berkeley, I found a home within the environmental law curriculum. I decided to participate in the Environmental Law Clinic (ELC), in the hopes of getting exposure to administrative law and government regulatory issues in practice, to complement the case law and theory I learned in my traditional coursework.
My experiences in ELC this semester have been rewarding, challenging, and helped me hone my professional interests. I worked on the National Contingency Plan Project Team. The National Contingency Plan or NCP is a set of federal regulations governing oil spill response. Under the Clean Water Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to maintain and periodically update the NCP to reflect advances in science and technology. The current NCP was enacted in 1994, when I was two years old (I’ve developed a lot since 1994 and so has science and technology regarding oil spill response). Our lead plaintiff, the ALERT Project, came to ELC in 2018 expressing concerns about the current NCP regulations, which provide for the use of dispersant chemicals to “clean up” after oil spills. Rather than removing oil from ocean waters after a spill, these chemicals break up oil into smaller pieces and spread it throughout the water, exacerbating the impact of the spill. Not only are dispersants an ineffective oil spill response strategy, but they also harm human health and marine ecosystems. EPA acknowledged deficiencies in the NCP in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon Explosion. Gulf Coast residents and oil spill response workers were sickened after exposure to dispersant chemicals in the wake of the BP explosion – these chemicals also harmed marine life and damaged the ocean ecosystem. The fact that the dispersant chemicals are an ineffective way of cleaning up after an oil spill and that they bring harm to humans and animals that come into contact with them demonstrate a need for reform.
Presented with this problem ELC developed a plan to sue EPA for its failure to update the NCP as required by the Clean Water Act and for unreasonably delaying issuing a final rule to update the NCP, a process EPA started in 2015 and has yet to complete. For a self-declared administrative law/government regulatory nerd, the prospect of working on a case against an administrative agency was thrilling. I relished the opportunity to do statutory and case research. I had fun drafting the complaint, which will be filed against EPA in the Fall. One of the most fun moments this semester was sending our Notice of Intent to Sue, a necessary precursor to filing a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act, to EPA. It was an exciting culmination of our work this semester and fun to see administrative law in action.
My work on the NCP Project this semester was a perfect complement to my fall 2018 coursework. During that semester I took Administrative Law (where I learned about the EPA and suing regulatory agencies), Environmental Law and Policy (where I learned about the Clean Water Act and EPA’s regulatory realm, and Federal Indian Law (where I learned about the unique challenges and difficulties of representing tribal interests). The NCP project implicated the APA and the Clean Water Act – and our plaintiff coalition includes an Alaska Native community leader, concerned that the NCP’s deficiencies will negatively impact her tribe’s ability to survive, her community depends on marine life that travels throughout our nation’s waters for sustenance. Because of all these tie-ins, ELC and the NCP project were a perfect complement to my coursework and helped me realize that I am excited about administrative litigation and hope to get more exposure to it as I develop on my career path. I am excited to continue with ELC and this project in Fall 2019 and hope this project leads to meaningful regulatory reform at EPA.