The Stegner Center’s Research Fellows Program offers outstanding second- and third-year law students an opportunity to participate in scholarly research on environmental and natural resources law. The Program’s research provides legal professionals, policy makers, and the public with the objective facts and carefully documented analysis needed to address the complex resource management challenges facing Utah and other Western states.
We are very excited that Heather Tanana joined the Research Program as a Research Associate in July of 2019. Heather is a 2010 alumna of the S.J. Quinney College of Law and graduated with high honors as well as a certificate in environmental and natural resources law. She also holds a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University, where she is an adjunct professor and teaches a course on American Indian Health Policy. Heather clerked for Judge David Nuffer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah before joining the Stegner Center. Prior to her clerkship, Heather was a shareholder with Richards Brandt Miller Nelson in Salt Lake City. Heather greatly expands our ability to mentor students with an interest in environmental and natural resources law. She will also help the Stegner Center engage more fully on important issues at the intersection of American Indian and natural resources law.
Heather is already hard at work. Together with Stegner Center Research Professor John Ruple, Heather, co-authored Beyond the Antiquities Act: Can the BLM Reconcile Energy Dominance and National Monument Protection? in the American Bar Association’s Natural Resources & Environment journal. Their article argues that the Trump Administration failed to comply with congressional directives when the Administration prepared management plans for the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The duo also is primarily responsible for overseeing law students working as Stegner Center Fellows on a host of important issues involving environmental and natural resources law.
Working with 2019 College of Law graduate Merrill Williams and Professor Michael Tanana from the College of Social Work, John completed an empirical review of 636 federal permitting decisions to determine whether compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act delays federal projects. Their paper, Does NEPA Help or Harm ESA Critical Habitat Designations? An Assessment of Over 600 Critical Habitat Rules, which will be published by U.C. Berkley’s Ecology Law Quarterly, shows that environmental review may actually result in faster permitting decisions. In related research, John and third-year law student Kayla Race reviewed extensive federal data on NEPA compliance and environmental litigation in order to quantify the “burden” posed by NEPA compliance and litigation. Their article, Measuring the NEPA Litigation Burden: A Review of 1,499 Federal Court Cases, which was accepted for publication in Environmental Law, shows that most projects are authorized expeditiously and that just 0.2% of NEPA decisions result in litigation.
There are currently seven law students working with the Research Fellows Program. John and Professor Robin Craig, together with third-year law student Connor Arrington, continue to research legal and institutional barriers to water resource allocation and management in Pakistan. John and Heather, with help from third-year law student Abigail Benesh, are continuing work on NEPA compliance by assessing how federal agencies utilize the most common tool for NEPA compliance, categorical exclusions. John, Heather, and Geography Professor Phoebe McNeally, together with second-year law students Ann Edwards and Laurel Hagen, are also continuing their work assessing legal challenges to national forest system planning efforts. Second-year law students Cole Morgan, Connor Klosterman, and Rob D’Andrea are all hard at work on environmental research. Cole is assessing undeveloped federal oil and gas leases and how those leases impact federal land management. Connor is working on a water rights permitting issue involving an arcane exception to state water rights permitting requirements. And Rob is exploring the intersection between law and science, laying the groundwork for what we hope will be a course helping STEM students to engage more effectively in development and implementation of environmental policies.
The public, lawmakers, and national and regional media outlets are all increasingly turning to the Stegner Center’s Research Fellows Program for information on public land law. We look forward to continuing to provide the carefully researched and objective analysis needed to inform policy making, and to working with the next generation of environmental lawyers to hone their analytical skills. We are grateful to the ESRR Impact Endowment Fund at the Chicago Community Foundation, the Wilburforce Foundation, and a host of smaller donors that make these efforts possible.