Jessica Reiss

By Jan. 1, 2017, Indiana residents will breathe easier—with less sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere—and a Vermont Law School graduate helped clear the air.

Partly through the work of Jessica Reiss JD/MELP '11, Indiana adopted sulfur dioxide emissions limitations nearly two years earlier than the state otherwise would have. A memo from Reiss, an attorney at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), to Indiana's Environmental Rules Board played a role in the decision.

As a result of the state ruling, which regards compliance with an Environmental Protection Agency regulation, Indiana is expected to achieve National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for sulfur dioxide.

"I love spending every day delving into various aspects of the Clean Air Act," says Reiss, who supports mainly IDEM's Office of Air Quality. "The Clean Air Act was specifically written to be ever-changing, so air-quality law never grows stale."

It's Reiss's role to navigate the changes: NAAQS are tightened periodically; Hazardous Air Pollutants as classified by the federal government are delisted; the EPA develops the first regulations for electric-industry greenhouse gas emissions.

Reiss spends most of her time representing IDEM in air permit appeals and enforcement actions and providing in-house counsel for the Office of Air Quality. She also supports the Rules Development Branch, which drafts all state-level regulations for IDEM.

She credits her VLS degrees with helping her obtain her current position.

"In an office full of Indiana University law grads, Vermont Law School was recognized as a leader in environmental law," Reiss says.

She also gained useful knowledge in her courses for the VLS Certificate in Energy Law, which she earned in 2011. "Because of those classes, I am not phased by the expanding overlap of air-quality law and energy regulation," she says.

An independent research project Reiss completed while at VLS provided crucial experience as well. In the project, she commented on EPA's then-proposed Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Now she helps IDEM determine how to implement the rule.

"Opportunities like that project and other extracurricular activities at VLS were invaluable in familiarizing me with the administrative process and EPA regulations," Reiss says.