Internship at the EPA (OECA)

My internship at the EPA was an incredible learning experience. I was a law clerk in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA), Office of International Affairs. OECA handles enforcement of all environmental laws, especially the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EPA’s website details the facets of OECA’s work: http://www.epa.gov/aboutepa/oeca.html.

OECA’s International Affairs Office focuses on fostering governmental cooperation and capacity building by providing training and assistance to other nations in developing and enforcing environmental laws. During my internship I was primarily involved in their trade agreement program. My main project was to translate and analyze surveys that were given to parties of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) about their development and enforcement of the environmental impact assessment process. The task was painstaking because Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic all have very different environmental institutions, laws and timelines for enforcing the law. The translations took up the first month of my time. Although I considered myself proficient in Spanish, I quickly learned that legal Spanish terms are much more formal and less intuitive than the vocabulary I had.

The work was very rewarding when my recommendations and analysis were integrated into my supervisor’s report for the next meeting with the CAFTA-DR countries. Central America and the Dominican Republic represent the third largest US export market in Latin America. The CAFTA-DR countries are quickly developing land for their growing industrial sector. This fact makes the states’ compliance and enforcement of the NEPA process, especially the use of environmental impact assessments critical to sustainable growth. The “EIA Recommendations Report” that we produced highlighted the barriers each state faced to enforcement of environmental laws and offered solutions in the form of technical training and public outreach and education. Most states lacked the institutional, financial and human resources to ensure compliance with the laws.

My supervisor attended the CAFTA-DR meeting in Guatemala at the end of my internship and reported that it was very productive. The states were pleased that the EPA had responded to their individual issues and provided directed recommendations for each country’s environmental organizations. It was a clear achievement of the EPA’s goal of building international capacity to protect the environment. My hope is that the technical and policy manuals EPA has developed will have an impact on the the future enforcement of environmental law in these countries.

The most fun part of my time at the EPA were the bi-weekly lunch lectures that OECA provided for all of the interns in the Clinical Legal Education Honors Program.  Because I was the only intern in my office it was a chance to get to meet the other law clerks and learn about other departments within the EPA.  The director of the program had a great sense of humor- there was a banner in the room with the mantra he recited at the beginning of each lecture: “You’re not working unless you’re networking!”

Overall, my experience at the EPA was really positive.  It was my first real office experience and taste of the professional world.  I was able to strengthen my Spanish skills and learn about the vastly different environmental laws and institutions of other countries.  My supervisor was very demanding and a difficult personality to get along with.  By the end of my internship I felt great about surviving the experience.  The program director finally told me I was placed with my supervisor because he thought I could handle it.  Now I am confident that I can work with even the most difficult personalities.  In many ways it was a valuable experience because I learned mostly what not to do in a professional setting.  I also had to be very persistent in getting my supervisor to clarify her expectations.  These lessons have been invaluable in subsequent jobs.

Most importantly, I got the chance to experience the real, day-to-day workings of the EPA.

 

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