The Catholic University of America



Students Learn About the Gulf Coast Oil Spill
and Careers in Environmental Law


Spill-hunting and job-hunting were both under focus for Catholic University law students who attended “A Discussion about Offshore Drilling and the Gulf Coast Oil Spill,” an Oct. 22 panel discussion about the largest oil spill in American history and the government’s response to it.
Offered by the law school’s Greening the Campus Campaign, along with the Student Bar Association, the Law and Public Policy Program, the Environmental Law Society and the Office of Career and Professional Development, the talk offered a rare insider’s view into the inner workings of an emergency presidential commission.
The Gulf Coast may be dealing for years to come with the environmental damage caused by the well head blowout of British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon drilling platform last April. The oil gushed unchecked for three months.
The Obama Administration quickly convened the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling to investigate what went wrong and to assess the effectiveness of the government’s response. The commission is currently hard at work on its final report to the president.
One of its key members is Sam Sankar (left) currently serving as deputy chief counsel to the commission on loan from his fulltime position as an attorney in the environment and natural resources division of the Justice Department.
“Now I’m an industrial accident investigator,” said Sankar, who noted that many of the commission’s 50 members had to learn the language of the oil industry very quickly after their appointments.
“It’s been a real stretch of my own legal abilities,” said Sankar. “The only way to learn is to do it and be willing to stumble a few times.”
Other speakers included Michael Gray, staff attorney, Environment & Natural Resources Division, Justice Department; John C. Martin, partner, Crowell & Moring; and Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife.
The students in attendance were equally interested in hearing tips on how to launch a career in environmental law, and each speaker spent some time describing their own trajectories.
Another speaker, who provided introductions of the panelists, was himself a Catholic University law student barely six months ago. Jon Monger (above) class of 2010, is now serving as a law clerk on the national commission, a plum position by any standard.
Monger said his previous acquaintance with Sankar, who is the husband of CUA law professor Amanda Leiter, was key to opening the door to his spot on the commission staff.
“You want to make it as easy as possible for someone to hire you,” said Monger, underscoring the importance of networking.