College of Law Student Tanana to Present at EPA Conference in Washington, DC

Heather Tanana, a 3L at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, will be presenting at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Justice Research and Decision Making Symposium, which will be held in Washington, DC, March 17-19. Her proposal, which was selected in a competitive process, grew out of her work as a Quinney Fellow on the Children’s Environmental Health Law and Policy Project.

Talk about about the genesis of the project—we know you had been working as a Quinney Fellow, but what kind of work had you been doing?

As a Quinney Fellow, my primary research for Professor Adler and Professor McDonnell focuses on environmental health policy, including an analysis of California Public Resource Code 21151.8 (discusses school siting in relation to hazardous air emitters and traffic corridors).  In general, I have been studying the process of legislative efforts to prevent adverse environmental exposures.  As a side project, I researched the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and Utah’s waste management program.  The idea for my proposal arose out of the RCRA research, within an environmental health context.

Describe your planned presentation. What will you be talking about?

The title of my presentation is: “The Breakdown of Federal Protections: How Environmental Health Policy Set at the National Level Can Be Derailed at the State Level.”  I’ll be presenting on Utah’s exemption of mining waste from both hazardous and solid waste management, despite associated environmental risks and Congressional intent. Utah is an example of how states can circumvent the purpose and effectiveness of federal requirements governing environmental health (e.g., RCRA). As a result, low-income communities are disproportionately impacted without the appropriate protections intended by federal standards, or opportunities to participate effectively in decisions regarding adverse exposures.

Please relate for us how you became interested in environmental justice issues.

I have always been interested in American Indian health policy.  However since coming to law school, that interest has developed to encompass environmental issues as a result of my course work, participation on the Journal of Land Resources and Environmental Law, and research experience.

What was your first reaction when you found out you would be doing a presentation in Washington, D.C.?

I originally submitted a poster abstract, so I was surprised not only to be accepted to the symposium, but to be asked to do an oral presentation as well. It’s an amazing opportunity!

Is there anyone in particular you would like to acknowledge for contributing to your work?

Professor Adler has been an incredible mentor throughout my law school career.  I also feel very fortunate to have gained Professor McDonnell as a mentor this year through the Quinney Fellow program.  Both have provided invaluable guidance and feedback on my work.  Additionally, I am extremely thankful to Dr. Ed Clark and the Department of Pediatrics Administration, who have offered to pay for my travel expenses to the conference.

What are your plans post-graduation? How does this honor tie into or contribute to them?

Post-graduation, I will be working as a research fellow at the Institute for Clean and Secure Energy at the University of Utah where I hope to continue working on environmental health policy issues within the realm of energy law. I will also continue working towards my Masters of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.