Susan Akers JD/MEM ’91 and Amy Gillespie ’93: DOJ colleagues pursue civil remedies for environmental violations

October 13, 2017Duke Law News

Susan Akers JD/MEM ’91 and Amy Gillespie ’93, longtime colleagues in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), use remarkably similar terms to characterize the mission underlying the pursuit of civil remedies for violations of federal environmental laws. To a great extent, it’s a matter of ensuring fairness between competitors, they both say.

“We make sure that everybody who is similarly situated is treated fairly,” says Akers, an assistant section chief. “With companies in the same industry, we aim to ensure that you are treated fairly with respect to your competitor against whom we brought an earlier action.”

Given that cases come to them by referral from the client agency — most notably the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — they are enforcing laws, not making policy decisions, Gillespie notes. “If a polluter is not making the financial investment to comply with environmental laws when their competitors are, it amounts to an unfair advantage,” she says. “Enforcing the law by getting them to pay a penalty and ensuring compliance levels the playing field.”

Both also agree on the satisfaction they take from their long careers as environmental lawyers and litigators in public service. The DOJ Environmental Enforcement Section, says Akers, “is a really great place to work.”