On May 25, I began my internship with Riverkeeper, Inc. in White Plains, NY. Riverkeeper is an environmental watchdog organization committed to protecting the Hudson River, its tributaries, and the New York City Watershed. My position is that of legal intern with Riverkeeper’s Watershed Program. The Watershed Program is dedicated to ensuring that the 9 million residents of New York City and Westchester, Putnam, Orange, and Ulster Counties continue to enjoy clean, unfiltered drinking water. Riverkeeper believes that access to safe, affordable drinking water is a human right and only in the interest of protecting human health or the integrity freshwater ecosystems should the filtration of public drinking water supplies be considered. You can learn more about the mission of the Watershed Program and all of Riverkeeper’s teams at www.riverkeeper.org.
Located on Pace University School of Law’s campus, the Watershed Program is the only Riverkeeper program located in White Plains, with the main office in nearby Ossining, NY. This gives me a unique opportunity to work closely with my Watershed Program teammates while also getting to know other aspiring environmental lawyers who are summer interning at the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic, with whom we share an office building.
Many non-profits write memorandums of support or opposition to proposed legislation that relates to their organization’s mission. I started my first day with Riverkeeper researching several environmental bills pending in the New York State (NYS) Legislature and drafting Riverkeeper’s memorandums of support and opposition to these bills. Later on in the afternoon, I participated in a conference call with other NY based environmental organizations to discuss issues of mutual concern, including hydrofracking. The sense of comradery and shared passion over the topics discussed was inspiring and reassured me that I had made the right choice for my internship.
As a legal intern, I not only participate in Riverkeeper’s case review (a weekly update of the current status of all Riverkeeper involved litigation), but also conduct legal research. Currently, I am researching the legal options small NY municipalities may have in limiting hydrofracking operations within their town. Preemption language in New York’s Environmental Conservation Law prevents municipalities from directly regulating gas, oil, and surface mining operations but municipalities can still dictate where in their town the hydrofracking can occur. There are also some potential avenues a town could pursue in ensuring that the environmental and public health risks associated with hydrofracking are minimized. Sharpening my research skills and learning to clearly articulate my findings in a format that will be helpful to our staff attorney and the Watershed Program Director has been one of the most valuable aspects of my internship.
In addition to my legal based work, I have also been involved in some NYC DEP watchdogging. As you may recall from Gautam’s class (and Monique’s too for us policy kids), in 1997, NYC DEP signed the Watershed Agreement which provides a framework for the City to meet the requirements of its drinking water filtration avoidance determination (FAD). The Watershed Agreement also established programs through which NYC funds projects to address such issues as septic system upgrades, infrastructure repair and extension, and pollution control. In addition to NYC, NYS, the U.S. EPA, and several watershed municipalities, five environmental groups also signed the Watershed Agreement, including Riverkeeper. The Watershed Program has been in contact with these other environmental organizations so that we can coordinate our comments and eventually issue a report card on NYC DEP’s performance under the 2007 FAD agreement and the effectiveness of the Watershed Agreement programs.
When I am not working on the aforementioned projects, I am involved with Riverkeeper’s social media outlets. I have been writing for Riverkeeper’s blog, Don’t Frack with NY Water, which shares the latest scientific, environmental, and political hydrofracking news and events with its followers. My most recent blog post was a short blurb about France’s nationwide ban on hydrofracking in their shale deposits. (As an interesting side note, it was France’s conservative party that supported the bill while the Socialists voted against the bill because it left open the possibility for other drilling operations in the shale). You can read Riverkeeper’s frack blog, and some of my posts, at http://dontfrackwithny.com.
Until next time CEP bloggers,