Assistant Regional Counsel and Dive Team Member, Region 10
Environmental Protection Agency
As an attorney representing Region 10 of the Environmental Protection Agency, Kris Leefers handles enforcement and “Superfund” matters in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Alaska, and all tribal lands within that region.
Leefers devotes about 40 percent of her time to enforcement, working with investigators on matters involving violations of the Clean Water Act (including wetland destruction and violations of pollution discharge permits), the Clean Air Act (on such matters as violations of asbestos standards, open burning, and gasoline dispensing facilities), the Emergency Preparedness and Community Right-to-Know Act (which involves reporting of hazardous chemical storage and releases of hazardous chemicals into the environment), and the Toxic Substances Control Act (dealing with matters of PCB handling and disposal).
In those cases I either bring administrative actions or work with the Department of Justice to bring civil judicial actions, depending on the circumstances of each case," says Leefers, noting that most of her cases settle prior to judgement.
Much of her time is taken up with Superfund work. “I provide legal counseling to the Office of Environmental Cleanup that deals with sampling, planning, and removal of contaminated material from properties,” she says. “This involves gaining access to property, negotiating for responsible parties to conduct sampling or a cleanup, or pursuing responsible parties to reimburse EPA for costs expended by the agency in conducting a cleanup.”
Leefers also provides legal counseling and document review whenever the EPA receives a Freedom of Information Act request pertaining to her cases.
As a member of the EPA Region 10 Dive Team, Leefers also works as a professional scuba diver to support the agency’s work. A recreational scuba diver for six years, she is currently getting professional training and certification at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in advance of her first scheduled EPA dive project, in early November, in Willapa Bay, Wash.
“This combination job of attorney and professional diver suits me perfectly,” says Leefers. "I am so excited to have a job that allows me to pursue two of my passions while serving the public. I don't know where else I could find this combination, so I intend to stay with EPA for a quite a while.”
Having entered the EPA as an Honors Attorney Fellow in January 2013, Leefers became eligible to join the Dive Team when she was offered a permanent position in the Office of Regional Counsel in early summer. Before joining the EPA she gained experience in housing, unemployment, and health law at Bet Tzedek Legal Services in Los Angeles, supported by a Duke Bridge-to-Practice fellowship.
“Working to protect human health and the environment — the EPA’s mission — is a natural fit for me,” says Leefers, who before coming to Duke worked as a beekeeper in South America and Michigan and a park ranger in the Everglades National Park. During law school she was an editor for the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Forum (DELPF) and held a summer internship at the Natural Resources Defense Council. She advises students to follow their passions and interests when selecting courses and internships.
“It is always easier to explain why you made certain choices when you can speak genuinely, rather than making choices to fill out a resume in a way you think an employer wants you to,” she says. “It's hard to know just what an employer wants to see, but if a student takes courses and interns in areas they are genuinely interested in, it will likely help that student find employment in those same interest areas following graduation.”