Stanback Interns deepen expertise in environmental law, policy

September 1, 2011Duke Law News

Drafting comments on air pollutants for the Environmental Protection Agency. Researching a decade’s worth of state environmental rules. Planting marsh grass to help prevent erosion along North Carolina’s White Oak River.

These projects and more were all part of a day’s work for the dozen Duke Law School students completing internships as part of the
Stanback Internship Program
during the past summer.

“It was easy getting up in the morning knowing that today, as with just about any other day, I was going in to work and would be learning something new and interesting,” said Michael McEvilly ’13, who completed his internship with the North Carolina Coastal Federation in Newport.

The Stanback Internship Program, administered by Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, is available to all Duke students and provides a $4,500 stipend for 11 weeks of work with one of more than 50 Stanback-approved environmental organizations. The program, which was established in 1995, is funded by Fred and Alice Stanback, Duke alumni and lauded supporters of the environment. The couple was honored by former North Carolina governor Mike Easely in 2008 with the North Carolina Award, the state’s highest civilian honor, for their public service efforts.

Though many participating organizations are based in North Carolina, Duke Law students traveled this summer as far as Seattle to work with organizations such as Earthjustice and the Sierra Club.

McEvilly spent the bulk of his time writing reports and researching subjects like the potential health impact of a proposed cement kiln at the North Carolina coast.
“All of the work was fulfilling,” McEvilly said. “I learned a good deal about the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Coastal Area Management Act permit requirements, as well as how NGOs operate and ways they can improve efficiency. The internship fostered my interest in environmental and natural resources law going forward.”
Many students who pursue a Stanback internship do so because of a previous interest in environmental law and policy.

“I’m here to study environmental law, so I was looking for an internship that would let me do that,” said Shannon Arata ’13, who worked with the North Carolina Conservation Network in Raleigh. “I’m looking for environmental policy more than just litigation, and the internship I was working on had to do with all the topics I was interested in, like water.”

Duke Law’s Career Center pointed her to the Stanback program, thorough which she learned about the N.C. Conservation Network.

“It was a close fit,” Arata said, “and it was also working on the side of environmental law I’d like to work on — more on the regulations side rather than fighting against those regulations.”

Arata said much of her work will be useful during the next legislative session, as local environmental advocacy organizations work to protect North Carolina’s existing environmental rules against a recently passed bill in the state senate.

“I went through the last 10 years of those rules and the problem was the language in which the new bill was written was really ambiguous,” she said. “So when you go back and look at the actual language of existing rules and apply the senate bill to them, it creates a huge problem in interpreting and enforcing those rules.”

Jill Strominger ’13, who completed an internship with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said her experience was not only educational, but helped to shape her outlook on the world.

“We walk through the world and assume life is a certain way because that’s what our experience has been,” Strominger said. “I think that some of these internships give you the opportunity to put yourself in a different mindset and to recognize that realities are different for everyone based on what you’ve experienced.”

With that in mind, and after seeing how their time spent in the wilderness positively affected her coworkers at the SELC, Strominger spent several days after her internship ended backpacking in the Smoky Mountains.

“By studying law we’re going to help shape the rules that govern the way people live,” Strominger said. “It’s important to know what different situations are out there and to know what the environmental realities and the health realities are for people. Until you do that you’re going to be severely hindered in your ability to make the best possible rules.”