U.S. Environmental Protection Agency General Counsel Jeffrey Prieto Delivers Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture on Environmental Law at Elisabeth Haub School of Law

May 16, 2023
Jeffrey Prieto

Jeffrey Prieto delivered the annual Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture on Environmental Law on Tuesday, April 18, 2023, entitled “Addressing the Triple Environmental Challenges of Climate Change, Environmental Injustice, and Pollution: An EPA Perspective.” Mr. Prieto currently serves as the Senate-confirmed General Counsel of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Elisabeth Haub School of Law established the Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture on Environmental Law to expand its programs of research, education, professional and scholarly activity and publications in environmental law, a field for which the Haub School has received national and international recognition.

Kerlin Distinguished Professor of Environmental Law and Associate Dean for Environmental Law Programs and Strategic Initiatives at Haub Law, Jason J. Czarnezki, welcomed the audience to the lecture, observing the significance of holding the lecture during Earth Week. Haub Law School’s Dean, Horace Anderson, followed by overviewing the history of the Kerlin Lecture, noting that the Kerlin endowment funds a named professorship on Environmental Law at Haub Law. Professor Nicholas A. Robinson, founder of the Law School’s environmental programs, was named the first Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Distinguished Professor in 1999 and Professor Jason J. Czarnezki was designated as the second Kerlin Distinguished Professor in 2013.

Haub Distinguished Professor of International Law, Smita Narula, had the pleasure of introducing Mr. Prieto. During her introduction, Professor Narula noted that “environmental challenges like environmental injustice, climate change and pollution are at the forefront of our minds. Whether we are talking about students, staff, faculty or the wider community, these concerns are ever present and ever growing, and we look to the government for leadership. So, who better to speak on the government’s role in addressing these environmental challenges than the top lawyer in the nation’s leading environmental agency.” She also spoke of the incredible opportunity that Haub Law students have in hearing Mr. Prieto’s lecture as a sitting EPA General Counsel, and thanked Achinthi Vithanage, Associate Director of Environmental Law Programs, for the significant role she played in bringing Mr Prieto to the Haub Law campus.

Prior to the start of his lecture, Professor Czarnezki presented Mr. Prieto with the 2023 Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture Award medal. The medal displays a topographical depiction of Storm King Mountain, paying homage to the landmark second circuit case of Scenic Hudson Preservation Conference v. Federal Power Commission. Professor Czarnezki noted that this ruling inaugurated what we today call environmental law. As soon as he took the podium, Mr. Prieto engaged the audience with a fascinating lecture, elaborating on the work and mission of the EPA. “We have been very busy at EPA these past few years working toward furthering EPA’s crucial mission—to ensure that every American has clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, that we’re all protected from exposure to harmful chemicals and contaminated lands,” said Prieto.  “We’ve been hard at work tackling climate change and working on adaptation and resilience.”

The lecture discussed the importance of a healthy environmental future and what else must be balanced and considered to achieve that goal. Significantly, Prieto noted that, “It’s imperative that we take action on climate change now and that we do so while also prioritizing environmental justice and equity to make sure no one gets left behind, so that each and every one of us can enjoy a safe and sustainable future.” He further explained that, “As a public health agency, EPA’s number one priority is to protect people’s health, especially those who are on the front lines of environmental pollution.”

Prieto’s prior federal government service includes nearly 20 years across various agencies, including as an Attorney-Advisor in EPA’s Office of Water. Under the Obama-Biden administration, he served as the Senate confirmed General Counsel of the United States Department of Agriculture. He also served at the U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division where he served as a Trial Attorney, Counsel to the Assistant Administrator, and General Counsel. Prior to his most recent confirmation, Mr. Prieto served as the General Counsel of the Los Angeles Community College District, the largest community college district in the nation. 

After the lecture, audience members had an opportunity to comment and ask questions in a session moderated by Professor Czarnezki. Following the Q&A session a reception followed.

Learn more about the Gilbert and Sarah Kerlin Lecture on Environmental Law.

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