Environmental Lawyer Inspired by PEI’s Environmental Studies Program
“My Princeton experience and ENV courses have also given me the scientific background to really examine, and sometimes challenge, policy prescriptions based on their scientific merits.”
— Stephanie Tatham ’04
Stephanie Tatham ’04 graduated from Princeton with a degree in politics and a Certificate in Environmental Studies. Below, she describes the fascinating environmental advocacy work she has pursued since graduating, both as a fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC) in Chicago, and in her new position as an environmental lawyer in Denver. She also shares her advice to current ENV students “to find ways to apply your environmental interests in the real world, to be open to environmental opportunities outside of the traditional environmental arena, and to seek mentorship from leaders in the environmental field.”
Please describe your new position as an Associate with Kaplan Kirsch and Rockwell.
I am the firm’s third Princetonian, joining Polly Jessen (’87) and Allison Fultz (’84, *86). At Kaplan Kirsch and Rockwell, I work on environmental legal issues ranging from redevelopment of contaminated properties, to environmental impact reviews, to alternative energy development. About half of the firm’s clients are government or public transportation agencies, and it has a strong national transportation practice. For example, Kaplan Kirsch and Rockwell represented Denver’s Regional Transportation District in negotiations to use freight rail tracks to operate new commuter and light rail service, and Denver Union Station’s Project Authority in negotiations with the Federal Railroad Agency in preparation for the station’s redevelopment to accommodate the new transit services.
I am excited by the opportunity to apply the experience I gained in transportation advocacy at the Environmental Defense Fund and the Environmental Law and Policy Center to help transit agencies and freight rail operators address the legal issues that arise in the development and operation of urban rail systems.
Did your participation in the ENV program influence your career choice? If so, why and how?
Absolutely. When I came to Princeton, I knew that I had a strong interest in environmental issues, but it was only once I arrived that I realized how important a role my concern for the Earth’s resources and its inhabitants’ health would come to play in my life. As I examined Princeton’s dauntingly diverse course offerings each year, I was always naturally drawn to environmental courses. The Princeton Environmental Institute’s interdisciplinary Environmental Studies (ENV) Program allowed me to take classes examining the logic and structure of environmental decision-making and its impacts on society in not only my major, the Politics Department, but also in the economics, history, chemistry, geosciences and other departments.
Please describe some of the challenges you faced as an ELPC Fellow, and did the ENV Program help prepare you to address them? If so, how?
Federal regulations or even permits can often run hundreds of pages and are filled with complex technical or economic analyses that are not immediately accessible to the general public. One of the most challenging requirements of this job was developing a thorough understanding of regulations on a variety of subjects, and then translating that understanding into opportunities for public participation and advocacy in the decision-making process.
During my sophomore year, I took ENV’s Environmental Regulation: Law, Economics, and Public Policy course, taught by the late professor David Bradford and then-visiting professor Richard Revesz (’79), now Dean of New York University Law School. This course was my first introduction to cost-benefit analysis, the economic analytical process that grounds federal, and often state-level, decision-making on major environmental, public health, and safety regulations. As Dean Revesz explores in his recent book, Retaking Rationality (Oxford University Press 2008), most important regulation affecting American health or safety have been required to pass a cost-benefit test since the Reagan Administration. Yet, few environmental advocates are engaged in debates on the details of how cost-benefits tests are and should be conducted. The economic and science courses I took at Princeton, and my subsequent work with Dean Revesz at NYU Law, have enabled me to understand the importance of these analyses. My Princeton experience and ENV courses have also given me the scientific background to really examine, and sometimes challenge, policy prescriptions based on their scientific merits.
Are there particular aspects of the ENV Program that influenced you positively? If so, why?
The ENV Program’s ongoing collaboration with the Community Based Learning Initiative (CBLI) gave me numerous opportunities to work on local environmental issues of importance to surrounding communities. As an example, my thesis on groundwater protection in New Jersey originated in a PEI/CBLI internship after my junior year with the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association with then-Executive Director, George Hawkins ’83. The Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association had been engaged in efforts to conserve groundwater resources around the state, but during my internship the state’s ability to enact protective land use regulations to protect water supplies was called into question by a New Jersey Superior Court decision.
My thesis explored how to write local land use ordinances so as to reduce the risk that these regulations would be struck down in court. As an academic, I enjoyed engaging in this complex legal analysis as well as developing a thorough understanding of threats to New Jersey’s groundwater resources. But the most rewarding aspect of my thesis was knowing that an area nonprofit organization could use my research to further their efforts to protect local water resources. This experience made me appreciate the real world relevance of my academic work, and led me to look for similar collaborative opportunities during law school and in my legal practice.
[Editor’s note: Stephanie was awarded PEI’s “Environmental Studies Program Thesis Prize” for her thesis “Groundwater Protection in New Jersey: Significance, Current Governance, and the Potential for Further Protection.” Her thesis advisor was George Hawkins ’83, a PEI visiting faculty member who teaches “ENV 306: Environmental Law and Moot Court.”]
Can you offer advice to current ENV students pertaining to the ENV Program or to a career in the field of environmental law?
My advice to students interested in the ENV program or the field of environmental law is to find ways to apply your environmental interests in the real world, to be open to environmental opportunities outside of the traditional environmental arena and to seek mentorship from leaders in the environmental field. After my sophomore year, I spent the summer as a Project ’55 intern at the Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) in Princeton. Although one might not immediately identify a peace coalition as an opportunity for environmental advocacy, CFPA’s leadership in advocating for nuclear disarmament was an unexpected bridge into a junior paper examining how the science of risk reduction applied to nuclear regulatory policy and hazardous waste storage.
Working in Princeton gave me the added benefit of being able to work over the summer on my junior paper with my advisor, Frank von Hippel, Director of the Program in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP) at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. Professor von Hippel’s scientific expertise meant that he was leading research on issues related to reducing the risk of hazardous-waste storage that were just coming into the mainstream, and were later recognized by the National Academy of Sciences. His insight guided and helped to structure the research that went into my junior paper, which I was able to later use as a writing sample when applying for internships and jobs. As a summer associate at the law firm Arnold and Porter, L.L.P, I found that the issues I addressed in my paper had continued relevance to a firm pro bono project that sought to prevent long-term storage of radioactive waste in Brooklyn, New York.