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Environmental Attorney Makes a Move to the Last Frontier

After two vacations in Alaska and years spent on the East Coast, Colin O’Brien decided it was time to live in one of the wild environments he has worked to protect.

The Anchorage-based attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, had lived for the better part of a decade in New York and Washington, D.C. After spending four years focused on a mix of litigation and policy work on air quality issues at the Natural Resources Defense Council, he decided it was time for a change. So, in April 2011 he made the big move to the 49th state.

“I was also interested in doing litigation that was aimed at protecting particular special places,” he said. “It’s hard to imagine a place more special than Alaska.”

Since then, O’Brien has focused on challenging government approvals of offshore oil proposals, such as those awarded to Shell Oil Co. for its exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas above the North Slope. Now that more companies are expected to join a stampede to find oil beneath the Arctic waters, O’Brien is among those pushing for greater public involvement in an Interior Department review of its air program.

“I think protecting offshore air quality in the Arctic is important for its own sake, as the environment there is relatively pristine and worth preserving,” O’Brien said.

O’Brien said living and working in the place he is trying to preserve makes his advocacy work more tangible.

“I find it satisfying knowing that my work is going to benefit an identifiable place and identifiable communities,” he said.

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