October 29, 2012

Staff Spotlight: From Pigs to Policy

Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, Oct. 29, 2012

DURHAM, N.C. -- After Amy Pickle graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with her juris doctorate, she took a post focused on something many may have viewed as slightly taboo.

Hog waste.

The North Carolina Attorney General had established a unique process to reduce water and air pollution from hog waste. The biggest hog companies in the state, environmentalists, scientists and small farmers were tasked with developing new hog waste treatment technologies and Pickle worked with a small team of lawyers to manage the entire process.

"Of course, I heard lots of 'ewww, gross,'" Pickle recalls of telling those close to her about the job. "But during my last year of law school environmental concerns around the North Carolina hog industry were really peaking, so I turned down private practice and landed a role working on the most pressing environmental issue for the state at the time. It was a great way to integrate science and law and absolutely has shaped my career."

For three years, Pickle jumped between business suits and rubber boots for her visits to hog farms as she learned the art of making policy work. It was a step that would help entrench Pickle deep in North Carolina environmental policy. It would take her from the Department of Justice to an advocacy role for environmental policy changes at the state and federal levels with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Now, the alumna is part of Duke University's wider community of world-class scholars, serving as senior attorney for the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions's State Policy Program. This academic think tank deploys economic, legal and policy experts to help public and private decision makers better understand and assess ways to address critical environmental problems. Here, Pickle has worked with a variety of decision makers on everything from adaptation to climate change to nutrient pollution.

"The Southern Environmental Law Center honed my legal analysis and litigation skills and make me a better attorney, but I was ready to broaden my legal work to focus on policy, engage more stakeholders, and shape the new environmental landscape," Pickle said. "Stepping back from advocacy work has given me greater freedom to analyze and work on creative and practical solutions to environmental challenges. I found I really enjoy surveying the broad policy landscape and crafting a whole solution."

In addition to Pickle's work at Duke's Nicholas Institute, she was appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue as one of the 15 members of the newly created Mining and Energy Commission. The Commission is legislated by the General Assembly to develop regulations governing hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," of the state's underground shale gas reserves. Earlier this year, she also took a role serving the state's Environmental Management Commission at Perdue's invitation. 

"I see my role on the Environmental Management Commission as a natural outgrowth of my work at the Nicholas Institute," she said. "I'm using my policy expertise for the benefit of the state, and it's a natural fit given my focus is public-interest environmental law."

For Pickle, the steps taken earlier on set her up for a career that not only drew upon her love of science, but also gave her the opportunity to work in the public interest. 

"At each step on my career path, I've had the good fortune to work with some of the smartest, most creative, dedicated lawyers in the environmental field," she said. "I love working with different stakeholders, finding out what motivates them, researching everything about an issue and then figuring out how to deploy that information. And that trend started at UNC."


*This article originally appeared in CLEAR, the magazine of the University of North Carolina Law School.