The Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division

zimmermanby Liesel Zimmerman, Class of 2017

On October 4, 2016, the Office of Career Services, the Student Environmental & Animal Law Society, and the Virginia Coastal Policy Center hosted “Careers in Environmental Law and with the DOJ,” featuring attorneys from the Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division. Students had the opportunity to hear from William & Mary Law School alumna Patricia McKenna, who serves as General Counsel for the Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). The Deputy Section Chief of the ENRD Appellate Section, Andrew Mergen, also presented at the event.

The ENRD is comprised of 635 employees, including 451 attorneys. The Division operates primarily from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. but also has a number of field offices in locations such as San Francisco, Denver and Boston. ENRD attorneys represent the United States and various federal agencies; sometimes bringing affirmative cases against companies and municipalities, and sometimes defending the federal government against suit.

DOJ ENRDMs. McKenna and Mr. Mergen explained the diverse roles of each of the 10 specialized sections within the ENRD. For instance, in the Wildlife and Marine Resources Division, litigators defend cases brought under Federal Wildlife and Marine Species Conservation laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The lawyers in the Environmental Crimes Section work closely with United States Attorneys’ Offices to prosecute organizations and individuals who violate the federal laws that protect our country’s natural resources. The Environmental Enforcement Section handles the civil side of those cases, working extensively with Superfund, The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. Attorneys assess the amount of damages that respondents’ actions have caused the environment, and they sue for damages accordingly. The Land Acquisition Section handles condemnation cases and proprietary matters. Of all the sections, the Land Acquisition Section takes the most cases to trial. The Law and Policy Section is responsible for coordinating the ENRD’s international work. They also review pending regulations and legislation. The Appellate Section handles appeals from every litigation division and prides itself on giving new attorneys practical experience arguing in the Federal Court of Appeals early on in their careers.

At the conclusion of the program, the attorneys provided insight into opportunities for interning and working at the ENRD. One of the most appealing aspects of their jobs is that they are always doing something different. In an evolving field like environmental law, every case presents its own interesting new challenges. Having Ms. McKenna and Mr. Mergen speak at the Law School provided an invaluable opportunity for students to gain an inside look at the workings of the ENRD.

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