A passion for environmental law that took root in SUNY Buffalo Law School's clinical program has grown into a multifaceted career in activism for one recent graduate. Now her work is being recognized with a prestigious American Bar Association award.
The award honors Tina M. Meyers '08, who works to improve the ecological health of the city of Baltimore's busy watershed through the organization Blue Water Baltimore. Presented by the ABA's Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources, it names Meyers as one of 12 Distinguished Environmental Advocates. This year's recipients are identified as "rising stars" lawyers under the age of 36 or in practice fewer than five years whose accomplishments are above and beyond those of their peers, and are deserving of recognition." Meyers will accept the award at the section's spring conference in Salt Lake City in March.
Meyers studied biology and environmental science at the University of Rochester. At SUNY Buffalo Law School, she says, a first-year course with Professor Barry B. Boyer, a specialist in environmental law, made her aware of some of the career possibilities in the field. It also introduced her to the organization Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, part of the nationwide Waterkeeper Alliance; now, in Baltimore, she runs the Waterkeeper program for her non-profit organization.
Another experience, in the Environmental Law Clinic, "opened my eyes to the role of lawyers in environmental advocacy work," Meyers says. "We did a community presentation to a local county group on environmental statutes, and I saw how the public needs a lawyer to translate these complicated regulatory mechanisms into something people can understand."
She took those skills into her first post-Law School position, as a fellow at the University of Maryland Law School's Environmental Law Clinic. She then worked as a staff attorney for the clinic for almost two years, representing local environmental non-profits in Clean Water Act lawsuits and permitting appeals. One of the clinic's clients was the Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper program, and when its director position came open, she moved into her new job early last year.
Her area of responsibility is the Baltimore Harbor, as well as the freshwater streams and rivers that flow into it. She notes that the area's tourist-friendly Inner Harbor is only a small part of the watershed; there is also a heavily used industrial port that is an important part of Baltimore's economy.
"Most of my job is using the Clean Water Act, legal enforcement and regulatory public processes to ensure that government is doing what it should and hold polluters accountable," Meyers says. "I'm not a traditional practicing attorney anymore, but on a daily basis I'm advocating with government agencies through conference calls and meetings, coordinating with other non-profits, reaching out and trying to get citizens involved in the movement. I also draft comments as part of the regulatory process on Clean Water Act permits for different polluters, and testify at public hearings." She even regularly heads out on the organization's boat to look for pollution and take water quality samples.
Though Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper brings lawsuits if necessary, she says, she doesn't act as counsel in those cases. "We bring in outside pro bono counsel for lawsuits," she says. "I can't do cases, because it would take up all of my time. But my law degree does make me a more educated client."
A Western New York native, Meyers says she has grown to love her adopted city. "Baltimore is like a really big Buffalo," she says. "People are friendly here. It's a down-to-earth city with a lot of character, and the waterfront is the heart of the city."
And her work, she says, helps to give regular folks a voice on clean-water issues. "People have been frustrated with the state of the harbor for a long time," Meyers says. "My favorite part is working with the public being the voice for the waterways and the public's health, and their need to have clean waterways. I've seen benefits happen from these enforcement actions. There's definitely a real need for this."