Lizzy Zultoski ’07 talks about Denison and how its Environmental Studies Program helped launch her career as a public interest environmental attorney in the Pacific Northwest.
Invaluable hands-on experiences sharpened my skills and taught me about my strengths and interests. I tromped through wetlands and fields of itchy golden rod for research projects. I participated in a mock Congress that taught me how politicians sell off our natural resources to the highest bidder. I debated with my best friend and co-author of a mandatory joint ethics paper about whether we should save the trees for their sake or ours. I spent hours in the basement of Barney Davis working on exciting yet tedious GIS mapping projects. Had I digested these subjects in large lecture halls, my romantic visions of these subjects may have led me down the wrong path in life.
Outside the classroom, I interned at the state Environmental Protection Agency and thrived in environmental education and leadership positions. I spent a semester in Costa Rica, which allowed me to experience sustainable development issues in other countries, gain more research experience in the field, and realize how much I needed to learn about my own country’s natural resource management. On top of this, I lived off the grid for a year at the Homestead, experiencing the sweat and manual labor it takes to embody your ideals.
I credit Denison’s Senior Research Project requirement as a key turning point for me. I used the project to push my boundaries and learn about new subjects—renewable energy markets and advocacy. I researched renewable energy options for the school and lobbied the student body, student government, and the university’s Board of Trustees to support renewable energy with the school’s purchasing power. While the school ultimately pursued a broader sustainability program in lieu of my pitch, I learned that policy research and advocacy was a great fit for my personality and skills.
Collectively, these experiences taught me that I had an itch for protecting natural resources that could not be scratched by scientific research, environmental education, or farming. So I headed off to law school and chose another small private school with a focus on practical hands-on learning in Portland, Oregon—Lewis and Clark Law School. There, I worked with incredible attorneys and professors, who taught me about our federal environmental laws, which provide citizens with powerful tools to protect their watersheds, communities, and wildlife from pollution and degradation. After graduating, I began litigating on behalf of organizations and individuals in Washington and Oregon to enforce those federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Citizen enforcement of these laws is crucial because state and federal regulators often lack the resources or political will to ensure that companies comply with environmental laws.
Over the years, I have worked on a variety of substantive issues in federal and state lawsuits and regulatory permit appeals. During law school, I helped with air, water, and wildlife issues surrounding off-shore oil drilling in the Arctic. Currently, I focus on cases that seek to bring industrial facilities into compliance with permits that require stormwater discharges to meet technological and water-quality based standards. Another major issue on my docket involves proposals to build transportation and storage facilities to accommodate the booming transport of crude oil by rail in the Pacific Northwest. I am fortunate to work on these and other rewarding cases on behalf of public-interest organizations. I will always be grateful that Denison set me on this path.
I graduated from Denison in 2007 with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a concentration in Biology, and graduated from Lewis and Clark Law School with a J.D. in 2010 and an LL.M. in Environmental and Natural Resources Law in 2011. I am now an associate attorney at a public interest law firm, Smith and Lowney, PLLC, which has offices in Seattle, Washington, and Portland, Oregon.