Kathleen Oprea first became interested in environmental law during college, when she was an extern at the Department of Justice (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division's Public Policy section. She graduated from Dartmouth University with a double major in environmental studies and economics and integrated these fields into a final thesis in which she explored economic projections of climate change effects under various scenarios. By the time she applied to law school, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in environmental law.
Ms. Oprea began her legal studies at Emory Law School in Atlanta, but says she "quickly realized that there were more opportunities for environmental coursework as well as externship opportunities in Washington, D.C., and particularly at GW Law." She notes that she was very happy with her decision to transfer, because during her 2L fall semester she was able to take several environmental law courses and also participate in GW's Intensive Clinical Placement Program with the Environmental Law Institute. She found that this placement was both interesting and enlightening because she had the opportunity to meet many students who were also passionate about environmental law and learn from their experiences.
While at GW Law, Ms. Oprea also had an externship with EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in the Waste and Chemical Enforcement Division as well as FERC's Office of Administrative Litigation. She found that:
"EPA, in particular, has a fantastic externship program where school-year externs are provided with the mentors and weekly programming to teach an overview of specific environmental law topics. Working at FERC's Administrative Litigation Office was fantastic for my career development since I had worked at a private energy law firm during my 2L summer, representing many clients who were involved in FERC Administrative litigation. Furthermore, I developed my understanding of the administrative litigation process, which will be helpful in my upcoming clerkship with the judges of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission."
After her clerkship, Ms. Oprea intends to work in the field of energy and environmental law.
Ms. Oprea recently won an American Bar Association (ABA) writing award for her paper, "Development At the Expense of Culture—Cooperation Needed to Achieve Sacred Site Protection and Effective Land Management." (Pictured, left with Jeffrey Dennis, Director of Policy Development, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) The paper discusses the current statutory authority for BLM to conduct land exchanges on public lands, focusing on the particular situation of the Quechan tribe and how the consultation process under FLPMA, NEPA, and NHPA disadvantages both Indian tribes and federal government agencies with regards to protection of sacred Indian sites. In her paper, Ms. Oprea proposes several potential solutions by modifying and streamlining the consultation process required by these statutes and by including "religious use" in the definition of "undue degradation" which is prohibited by FLPMA. Ms. Oprea notes:
"The need for new transmission development to support renewable and alternative energy technologies is a major driver in my research, but I did not understand how it fit into a broader public lands law issue until I read about the specific case of the Quechan Tribe. In 2012, the Quechan Tribe filed a lawsuit to stop the development of a large wind farm on public land in California, claiming that the development would affect sacred ground which, although it was not on their reservation, the Bureau of Land Management is obligated to respect. There is a complex statutory framework for development on public lands and the consultation process can end up creating problems for both tribes and the agencies. Having the opportunity to attend the Public Lands Law Section Conference in Montana further opened my eyes to the ways in which public lands law is connected to energy and environment issues in so many ways. I hope to continue to learn more about this area."
For further reading, view Ms. Oprea's paper on the ABA website.