In Spotlights

Maya NairMaya is an environmental attorney and currently serves as environmental counsel to the United States Coast Guard in Alameda, California. Her practice covers a wide range of environmental law including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, among numerous other environmental laws. She has a Masters of Laws (LL.M.) in Environmental Law from the George Washington University Law School, a J.D. from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and a B.A. from Revelle College at the University of California, San Diego.

How long have you been a WEN member?  If a Board member, please state your position and how you bring value to the team.

I have been a WEN member for two years and joined the board as Chair of Professional Development last year given my background in mentoring and running legal internship programs. For several years, I ran my office’s legal intern program which gave me the opportunity to focus on recruiting women into the Coast Guard’s legal program. In September, I headed up a WEN speed networking event in San Francisco. We had a great turnout and attendees had a fabulous time making new friends in the environmental sector.

What do you like best about being part of WEN?

Many of our professions (law, engineering, science, etc.) have always been and continue to be male-dominated fields. Although things have considerably changed over the last 50 years, I often think back to my law school dean telling our incoming class that she was the only woman in her entire law school graduating class.  I remind myself that it has not been that long since women were accepted into most professions.  It is essential that we never lose sight of our responsibility as women professionals to ensure that opportunities for women in our fields continue to grow. Organizations like WEN play a vital role in providing a place where we can go for support, mentorship, and an exchange of ideas that will enhance our careers and pave the way for women who would like to join an environmental profession in the future.

Tell us more about yourself.

From 2009 to 2013, I served as an officer in the U.S. Coast Guard JAG program. Being a Coast Guard judge advocate provided with me a breadth of experience far beyond anything I could have ever imagined, which included being a federal prosecutor and a legal advisor to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill response in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a Coast Guard officer I also worked on several oil spills in California as a legal advisor, assisted the United States Attorney’s Office with the prosecution of maritime environmental crimes, and conducted the legal review of the Santa Barbara Port Access Route Study that was praised by environmentalists for protecting whales from ship strikes. My government service in environmental law goes back to 2008 when I worked as law clerk at EPA Headquarters, Office of Air Enforcement in Washington D.C., and in 2009 as a law clerk for the California Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resource divisions.

What are some of your other activities?

I spend the majority of my free time travelling and exploring San Francisco. I’m also a dedicated swimmer and recently placed second in my age group at a San Francisco Bay open water swim competition. I’ve been training in San Francisco’s Aquatic Park to swim from Alcatraz next year.

What environmental issues are of most concern to you?

I have always been drawn to issues in maritime environmental law. For the last six years, I have been following the ever-growing regulatory regime for air pollution from ocean-going ships. Despite being a major contributor to air pollution in coastal regions like the San Francisco, air emissions from large ocean-going vessels have managed to be overlooked by our air pollution laws. The emissions that result from the burning of dirty heavy fuel from container ships, tankers, cruise ships, and other large ships are high in sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and harmful diesel particulates responsible for a range adverse health effects on coastal populations. Over the last decade, EPA and the California Air Resources Board have been developing regulations that will require ships to use cleaner fuels as they get closer to land.  Now that we are entering the implementation phase, I look forward to seeing how the new regulations will benefit coastal communities and how they will impact the shipping industry and international trade.