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This past summer I interned in the Office of Environmental Accountability at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the Region 4 office in Atlanta, GA. For more than thirty years, the EPA has been tasked to protect human health and the environment. With more than fifty million people living in the eight southeastern states that encompass Region 4, the office serves the largest and fastest growing population of any EPA region. Region 4 has a unique collection of some of the nation’s most beautiful and fragile resources, including one-third of the remaining wetlands as well as one-third of the coastline in the lower forty-eight states. Along with economic prosperity, rapid population growth and development has environmental impacts and consequences.
An example of the environmental side effects of growth can be seen in the management of the region’s water resources. With annual precipitation rates between forty and seventy inches, the availability of good quality water has been taken for granted. Competition for water resources has rapidly increased due to growth in population, water-dependent industries, and agriculture. Another issue is how to manage waste in the region. Corporate failures, plant closures under federal and state regulatory authority, and abandoned facilities due to bankruptcy proceedings, provide a continuing source of new sites for the Superfund program. The Brownfield program continues to be a high priority for redevelopment in the Southeast and has been nationally recognized. In fact, the largest urban brownfield redevelopment in the U.S. is located in Atlanta, in the aea that is now called Atlantic Station.
As an intern in the Office of Environmental Accountability (OEA), I was able to see how a federal agency tasked with protecting human health and the environment operates on a daily basis to enforce federal environmental laws and complicated regulatory schemes in the growing and ever changing landscape of the Southeast. The attorneys that work in OEA perform a wide variety of legal tasks, including providing advice and counseling for the region, representing the agency in administrative hearings and administrative appeals, assisting program offices in criminal enforcement activities, providing leadership in implementing national enforcement activities and initiatives, and coordinating the region’s enforcement and compliance assurance activities involving federal facilities. During my ten week internship, I was able to assist attorneys working on cases involving a variety of environmental statutes, including CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, CAA, and SDWA. I was also able to participate in a work group commissioned to investigate adaptation policies within the region in response to the threat of global climate change from GHG emissions. Additionally, I helped create a primer on the regulation of biodiesel production by schools and local governments. A workshop on the subject was recently held at the region headquarters in October 2009, and the initiative may expand to other regions in the near future.
I cannot thank the Equal Justice Foundation enough for providing the funding necessary to allow me to work as an intern at the EPA Region 4 office this summer. It was an amazing experience and one that I will cherish throughout my career.