October 13, 2014

Student Feature

2L's Interest in Meteorology Led to Passion for Climate Change Policy

Tremaine Phillips

As a child growing up in Cortland, Ohio, Tremaine Phillips ’16 always had an easy answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

“I wanted to be a meteorologist when I was in elementary school, middle school, and high school, so I had an obsessive amount weather books and videos stacked to the ceiling in my parents’ house,” he said with a laugh.

Over time, his fascination with studying weather patterns turned into a burgeoning passion for understanding climate change. This led Phillips to earn a degree in environmental economics and policy, with a specialization in geographical information systems, from Michigan State University, in 2008. He is currently working toward a joint J.D. and M.A. in public and policy and management at The Ohio State University.

Law school may seem like a slight diversion from Phillips’ original dream, but it’s a path that has served him well, leading him, most recently, to the White House.

This past summer, Phillips participated in Moritz College of Law’s Washington, D.C. Summer Program. While in D.C., he interned with the Office of Energy and Climate Change, at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which leads policy efforts across a variety of issues.

The work of the Office of Energy and Climate Change is focused on President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which Obama introduced in June 2013. The three-pronged plan aims to address climate change by reducing carbon pollution in the U.S., preparing for the impact of climate change in the U.S., and bringing international partners on board to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is probably the most significant climate mitigation policy in history,” Phillips said of the plan. “This will be a defining moment for whether we get a handle on climate change or not.”

The Office of Energy and Climate Change coordinates with other offices in the Executive Office of the President to lead policy efforts, so Phillips had the opportunity to network with many key players in the field.

“It was incredibly fast paced, and even as interns, there was a lot of pressure,” he said. “But the connections were outstanding, and the experiences that we had, in terms of being able to go to the White House and to some very senior stakeholder meetings, were incredible.”

Phillips jumped on every opportunity to attend events and meetings at the White House.

“It still puts me in awe that I had the opportunity to go to the White House,” he said. “One of the coolest opportunities I had was the chance to work in the White House garden one morning. We picked vegetables, checked out the White House bee hive, and the papaya tree.”

On another of his five visits, he watched as Marine One landed on the grounds and President Obama stepped off the plane.

In addition to tweaking his gardening skills, Phillips said he learned a number of things about working in Washington, D.C., at the intersection of environmental studies, economics, and government, which he hopes will serve him well after law school.

“I learned the importance of confidentiality, to a whole new level,” he said, “and the importance of process in regards to legislative and administrative law. There are so many interacting components when you’re working with administrative rules.”

In addition, he learned firsthand about “the importance of stakeholder groups and bringing groups together to ensure that the policies being created are representative of the business interests, nonprofit interests, and other special interests – that all of those voices are heard in the process.”

Prior to law school, Phillips worked as the director of innovation and region building, and chief program officer at Prima Civitas Foundation, which works to create resilient, adaptable communities in Michigan, from 2010-2013. From 2008-2010, he worked as an energy program associate at the Michigan Environmental Council and was a detailee with the Michigan Department of Energy, Labor, and Economic Growth. .
One reason he chose Moritz was because of its increasing focus on legislative law, and cited the D.C. program as a strong selling point as well.

“In terms of career pursuits, I wanted to have a better understanding of some of the legal and judicial components that are always enveloped around these energy policy issues,” he explained.

“I knew this point would come where climate change is one of the main things we are all talking about. I just didn’t know when it would get here. Now it’s definitely here, and there’s a lot more competition in terms of making sure I am staying aware and keeping ahead of the curve on policy and technology.”

Phillips encourages his classmates to explore the D.C. program because, he said, “there’s nothing like the nation’s capital to really get you invigorated around law and policy.”

Discovery is an internal weekly electronic newsletter for the faculty, staff, and students of the Moritz College of Law. Items to be considered for posting should be submitted to Barbara Peck, Chief Communications Officer, by the Wednesday prior to the Monday release of the newsletter. Items are subject to editing for content and brevity.