The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) is tasked with the environmental protection of the entire state of New York. This protection comes in many forms, including environmental laws, permitting of activities, and cleaning up contaminated sites.
The NYSDEC is divided into 9 regions. Region 2, located in Long Island City, Queens, consists entirely of New York City. A major function of the DEC is the balancing of actions pertaining to the use and conservation of natural lands. For a large portion of the state, this appears in the form of balancing recreational activities with sustainable land uses. In DEC Region 2, although this is also true, specific interests pertinent to New York City create the additional balancing of:
As a dual degree student with the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and the Bard College Center for Environmental Policy, I was privileged to experience the legal side of New York State environmental protection as an intern at the NYSDEC Region 2 Office of General Counsel.
Most legal work focuses on adherence to the law. The result is that much of the legal work performed is for the purpose of enforcement. Once a potential violation of state environmental law has occurred, efforts for a remediation or a penalty for the potentially violating party begin. Attorneys work closely with officers in the field to ascertain detailed information and reports.
Legal work for a student intern primarily consists of drafting papers initiating the legal process. These papers are called Consent Orders, and they state the claim for NYS against a potentially violating party. All individual Consent Orders are different, but many contain similar legal notions. They may provide the following:
• Information gathered by a professional officer, inspector, or other NYSDEC employee
• Reference to the relevant NYSDEC environmental law
• Address the violation of the law(s)
• Provide a potential penalty for the violation of law
• Attach contact information for the attorney assigned to the case
As the first step in the legal process, the Consent Order places the potential violating party on notice of legal action.
I was fortunate to get to write these hands-on and practical legal documents. In order to understand an organization and how it works, it is valuable to dive into paperwork and get involved with projects. There is no better way to understand legal practice than to just do it, with direct supervision of course.
Although my internship was in the Office of General Counsel, I associated with the entire DEC family. All Region 2 employees are housed within one office building. Staff includes management, lawyers, scientists, policy analysts, officers, communications and media, and more, from the levels of regional director down to the interns. The Region 2 headquarters is an impressive collection of talented people. As a New Yorker myself, I now have a new level of confidence in the protection of New York City. I am proud of the work I performed and the small contribution I made to the environmental efforts of New York State.