Student serves as steward of the ocean at NOAA

August 02, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Sewage and garbage. Those are two of the dozens of things that get Tanya Cramoy, of Penn State Dickinson School of Law's class of 2013, excited about her summer internship in the International Section of the Office of the General Counsel for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She is working on a new Polar Code, which will amend existing international maritime regimes with mandatory provisions specific to the poles.

"I am looking at the current international convention that regulates sewage and garbage discharge from vessels and, in light of available science, determining whether the poles merit heightened protection. It’s an amazing example of the tools that can be used to accomplish environmental objectives," she said.

Cramoy’s Polar Code work is an illustration of the challenges inherent in assessing and arriving at a U.S. position on international policies. In this case, Cramoy explained that the Polar Code will ultimately be enacted through amendments to existing international regimes, but the first step is to arrive at a single U.S. governmental position before entering the international forum, where even further consensus must be reached with the "8 plus 2" (the 8 Arctic countries, plus France and Germany).

In preparation for the Polar Code interagency meeting, Cramoy developed matrices which reflect the positions of U.S. government organizations such as EPA, the Coast Guard, the State Department, and the Department of Defense, overlaid with the positions of the NGOs and the other Arctic countries. "I am responsible for making myself an expert on my assigned annexes (of MARPOL) so that I can serve that role for my supervising attorney, who is a wonderful mentor. After I summarize an issue, she asks me ‘what would you do?' or 'what are my best arguments?'"

According to Peter Oppenheimer, Section Chief, NOAA Office of General Counsel, International Law, "Tanya proved invaluable assistance in helping our office plan and host a remarkably productive Polar Code Work Shop attended by representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard, the State Department, the Defense Department, and the U.S. EPA. Tanya's contributions helped us develop a shared set of principles that will inform further development of the environment chapter of the evolving Code."

NOAA’s Office of General Counsel International Section includes three attorney advisors and a section chief. “They are all brilliant minds and are all there for the right reasons,” Cramoy said.

Diverse background supports role

Cramoy said that her diverse background experiences have helped her to flourish at NOAA. She attributes her quick grasp of the alphabet soup of government and international organizations to gymnastics training. “When I switched to Russian-speaking coaches I thought, ‘I’ll never understand’ but within a couple of weeks, I was speaking just like them,” she said.

Her undergraduate science background has proven useful, too. “I don’t have to spend valuable research time trying to understand the science. It’s nice to know all that time in organic chemistry wasn’t wasted.” As an undergraduate she researched the effect of vessel traffic on humpback whales in Hawaii. “That project directly involved understanding maritime policies,” she said.

At Penn State Law she credits Natural Resources Law with best preparing her for this job. “I couldn’t be doing this without that class and Professor Colburn. He places real expectations on you and challenges you to think like a lawyer, not a law student.” Her legal writing classes and "Penn State Law Review" experience have also supported her. “My first assignment at NOAA was to take a skeletal document, flesh it out, and give it a law review edit. That document was translated into two or three languages, and an alternative form was co-sponsored by Norway for submission to an international working group. It was a good feeling.”

Challenge is to stay focused

Cramoy’s research on whether the U.S. should push for special area designation in the Arctic was presented at the Polar Code interagency meeting. “It’s my job to help determine whether these protections are warranted and whether other countries and agencies will agree with us. Everyone has to come together and there is a lot of work that goes into that. I was nervous, but excited.”

Cramoy said the most difficult part of the internship is staying focused. “Everything I’m assigned is something I’m just dying to work on,” she said. She has attended Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the law of the sea, has researched the potential international legal framework for underwater gliders, and looked at maritime routing measures and reporting systems as means of protecting marine sanctuary resources. Cramoy concludes, “I have learned more in 10 weeks than I ever thought possible. It is really a dream come true.”

Visit this link for more stories about students' summer work experiences and to learn more about Penn State Law.


  • Penn State Law student Tanya Cramoy, of the class of 2013.

    IMAGE: Mary Szmolko

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 22, 2015