VLS Alumni in the News

Alumni Spotlight: Power of the Law

Evan Belser JD'10: Clean Air Enforcer

Evan Belser is currently the Acting Chief of the Mobile Source Enforcement Branch of the Air Enforcement Division of the US Environmental Protection Agency. For about 4 years prior, he was Attorney Adviser in the Air Enforcement Division where he spent most of his time developing and taking enforcement actions for Clean Air Act violations concerning mobile sources of air pollution. His cases dealt with nearly every category of vehicle, engine, and equipment, the majority of them necessitating either informal settlements or formal adjudication. He referred the largest matters to the Department of Justice, remaining on those cases as Of-Counsel.

One of those cases resulted in the largest civil penalty in the history of the Clean Air Act. The case, involving automakers' false certifications of their vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions, culminated in a settlement with Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors that included remedies valued at more than $350 million for overstating vehicle fuel-economy standards on 1.2 million cars. For a young alumnus, this case was a major accomplishment.

Evan recently took some time to answer a few questions from the Alumni Office about his role in this historic case as well reflections on his law school training at VLS.

What was your role in the major enforcement action last year?

I was EPA’s lead counsel on the Hyundai-Kia case. I lead an exceptional team of EPA experts and lawyers throughout the investigation, and worked beside Department of Justice counsel and my management to settle the matter. This involved information requests, depositions, analysis, intra-agency coordination, public relations, litigation planning and, above all, negotiations.

What was one of the more powerful or influential moments during your work on the action?

It was a long effort, and I remember many important moments. Certainly, I’ll never forget when we announced the case. Attorney General Eric Holder and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy made the announcement at a joint press conference—a rare event. This was the first judicial action to enforce laws that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the entire event seemed historic. I was especially struck to hear those two leaders describe, in detail, the EPA’s programs to reduce air pollution from mobile sources like vehicles and engines. Mobile sources contribute substantially to the Nation’s air pollution, and I was proud to see such attention on the work of enforcing mobile source emission standards.

What kind of knowledge or training from VLS do you draw upon the most in the work you do?

There is no doubt I put my VLS training to use. My job demands voluminous legal writing and constant oral communication. My legal writing courses, time spent in the ENRLC, moot court competitions, and other VLS curriculum prepared me to generate quality work and make the best of face-to-face briefings and negotiations. Besides hard skills, I regularly draw from course work on administrative law, civil procedure, constitutional law, corporations, dispute resolution, and many more. These foundational subjects inform both my daily decision-making and my bigger ideas for the work of my office. They’ve been especially helpful in a role I have which involves coordinating administrative litigation issues across the EPA. 

Does a particular faculty member (or experience at VLS) come to mind when you reflect on your education?

I’m not sure I ever learned as much in a course as I did from Professor Renzo in Legal Writing I. Whether he would say it this way, I’m not sure, but here’s what I took from his course: If you have a clear idea, but you just can’t seem to write it down clearly, then the idea isn’t actually clear. That course taught me how to use the writing process to refine my ideas, not just record them. Honestly, there were so many influential experiences. Whether I was line-by-line editing a moot court brief with my team, working as a teaching assistant with my favorite professors, or exchanging ideas through the Student Leadership Collective, it was all challenging and fulfilling. 

What’s a future action or project on the horizon for you?

I’ve just taken a management role at EPA, and will focus on that. My office has so much important work to do, and I see many challenges standing in the way. But the group is genuinely committed to public service and the protection of human and environmental health. Plus, they’re excellent inspectors, investigators, and attorneys, so I’m confident that we will make a difference on a national scale. I think that mobile sources of air pollution will increasingly get attention in the coming years—well deserved attention—and I hope to contribute to that work.

Read an overview of the Hyundai and Kia Clean Air Act Settlement here.

Evan Belser '10

Evan Belser JD'10

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