November 01, 2016

Interview: Hilary Tompkins

Milo Mason

Hilary Tompkins was confirmed as solicitor of the Department of the Interior in the summer of 2009. From 2003–2008, she was deputy and chief counsel to the New Mexico governor. Before joining the state of New Mexico, Tompkins was an attorney in a national law firm devoted to representing Native American interests. Prior to her work in Indian law, she served as a special assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York. During the Clinton administration, Tompkins was an honors program trial lawyer in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she handled civil prosecutions in environmental cases nationwide. She also served as a law clerk for the Navajo Nation Supreme Court in Window Rock, Arizona. Before becoming a lawyer, Tompkins worked for the Navajo Nation Department of Justice as a tribal court advocate. An enrolled member of the Navajo Nation, Tompkins received a BA from Dartmouth College and JD from Stanford University, where she was associate editor of the Stanford Law Review.

NR&E: Thank you, Solicitor Tompkins, for this interview and on behalf of the editorial board of NR&E magazine, I appreciate it.

TOMPKINS: My pleasure.

NR&E: For those of our readership who may not be familiar with the solicitor’s office, can you describe it? What do you do? How many lawyers?

TOMPKINS: Sure. We are the legal office for the entire department. We’re general counsels. We have about 340 lawyers. About half of them are located here in D.C., and the other half are out across the country in regional offices. We have eight regional offices. And we provide legal advice to all of the bureaus in the department, and we’re specialized. We’re natural resources specialists, Indian affairs specialists, as well as general law. We provide advice not only to the bureaus and offices, but also to the deputy secretary and the secretary of the interior. So we’re a very large legal department with highly specialized legal expertise.

NR&E: Who’s your client?

TOMPKINS: The Department of the Interior is our client, and we always have a unified perspective on all issues. I’m joking. (laughter) But the client is the Department of the Interior, and we ultimately are the legal conscience of the department. That’s how I view our role. We might have varying missions, but our role is to provide holistic, broad legal advice to guide the department forward.

NR&E: I think one of your predecessors described this office as the nervous system, if not the brains, of [the Department of the] Interior.

TOMPKINS: Exactly.

NR&E: Interior was initially nicknamed the Department of Everything.

TOMPKINS: Correct.

NR&E: Can you list all of your agencies quickly?

TOMPKINS: That’s putting me under a lot of pressure right off the bat.

Okay. Well, we represent the National Park Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Bureau of Land Management, Office of Special Trustee, U.S. Geological Survey, and Office of Surface Mining. I think that covers most of the offices. So we have a broad portfolio. Also, there’s BOEM [Bureau of Ocean Energy Management] and BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement]. And there’s ONRR [Office of Natural Resources Revenue].

NR&E: The three residual agencies from the former Minerals Management Service, BOEM and BSEE, were constituted after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, fatalities, and oil spill. How are they doing, by the way?

TOMPKINS: They’re doing great. That was such a great outcome from what was a true environmental catastrophe. There’s always a silver lining. I believe that creating those three agencies in the aftermath of that disaster has been the best decision for the department. BSEE is doing a great job managing our offshore resources and providing oversight and enforcement, and BOEM, as well, is responsible for the leasing offshore. And then ONRR is in charge of royalty collection. It really made sense to separate those functions and provide independence in clear roles and responsibilities in the different agencies, and I think it’s been working really well.

NR&E: You may have a unique background as a solicitor.

TOMPKINS: You mean my professional or personal background?

NR&E: Both.


NR&E: Yes. You’re the first Native American . . .

TOMPKINS: Okay. I’m told that I’m the first enrolled member of a tribal nation to be solicitor. I’m a member of the Navajo Nation, and I have worked in the public sector many years prior to this stint, which I think helped prepare me for this role. I’ve worked in my own tribal court system of the Navajo Nation and also the Navajo Department of Justice. I started out as a paralegal and then also represented Indian tribes working for a small law firm that was devoted to that mission. Then I worked as an environmental enforcement lawyer for the Department of Justice at ENRD [Environment and Natural Resources Division]. Also, I was counsel to a governor of the state of New Mexico. I’ve actually worked for three different kinds of sovereigns in this country—tribe, state, and federal.

NR&E: And private practice.

TOMPKINS: Correct. And I think working for all of those different entities helped give me very diverse perspectives. The ability to pull on that experience in my current role has been invaluable.

NR&E: Did it really prepare you for what you found here, though, and the work you do?

TOMPKINS: In some ways it did. Certainly representing a governor provided me with really strong skills in advising a chief executive. What was new was the nature of the federal agency decision-making process.

NR&E: How so?

TOMPKINS: Just on a vaster scale, more diverse legal issues, a breadth of regulatory and statutory underpinnings that inform policy making in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. And the level of litigation is unparalleled.

That was really shocking to me.

NR&E: The level and intensity of it . . .

TOMPKINS: Exactly. Almost every major decision we make, we are challenged on in the courts.

NR&E: Now, besides having a few hundred DOI attorneys, you have the Department of Justice attorneys you have to deal with and, I’ve been told, it’s all like herding cats (laughter) . . . Is that accurate?

TOMPKINS: More like herding wild horses.

NR&E: Not stampeding buffalo? Wild horses.

TOMPKINS: And burros.

NR&E: Intermixed with the cats . . .

TOMPKINS: Exactly.

NR&E: You’re on top, overlooking and riding them.

TOMPKINS: Multiple levels.

NR&E: Yes.

TOMPKINS: Well, our relationship with DOJ is invaluable and they provide tremendous defense of all of our decisions. And I spend so much time working with them that they have a temporary parking space for me there.

The Department of Justice [DOJ] is our partner. They have great institutional knowledge about our Department’s past litigation positions. And that’s one of the things I love is the level of intellectual engagement on tough legal issues with our lawyers and DOJ and, really, in the Supreme Court practice, as well, is fabulous.

NR&E: What’s the top three or four pending issues you’re facing today?

TOMPKINS: We’re in the last year of an administration, so we’re focused on getting our work done before the end of the term. We’re focused on a lot of rulemakings right now. We have the Stream Protection Rule; we have Venting and Flaring Rule for onshore oil and gas; and we also have rules involving our refuges and parks. And when there’s mineral developed within those areas, we are evaluating what kinds of conditions and requirements might apply to accessing those minerals on those lands. So we have a lot of rulemaking going on. I’m also working on what’s called M-Opinions. A lot of people ask “What’s an M-Opinion?” I don’t know why there’s an M in front of it, maybe for memo? But the Solicitor can issue M-Opinions that are precedential to the Department and also receive weight in court. So I’m working on a number of those as well. But none of them am I going to share with you now, you’re going to have to wait and see.

NR&E: I’ll be sitting on the edge of my chair . . .

TOMPKINS: I know. So keep your eye out for those.

NR&E: I’ve helped draft a few of those.

TOMPKINS: I hope I don’t overturn any of the ones you worked on.

NR&E: Probably not. All the ones I ever did were solid and tight and forever . . .

TOMPKINS: Sure. (laughter)

NR&E: So, regarding the pending issues, you are putting your stamp, or this administration’s stamp, on the Department’s policies. Are you trying to overturn the 1872 Mining Act (laughter) by fiat?

TOMPKINS: No. Isn’t that a statutory change that Congress would have to take action on? That’s lawyering 101.

NR&E: Any new executive orders up your sleeve or proclamations by the president setting aside monuments?

TOMPKINS: I’ve got nothing up my sleeve, although we have, as you know, designated a number of monuments under the Antiquities Act. That’s been a real highlight of this administration to preserve our special places in the United States for future generations. And the lawyers in my office have provided a lot of support for those endeavors, and we’re really proud of our work in that regard.

NR&E: Any one especially that you take pride in?

TOMPKINS: Out of all of the monuments?

NR&E: Yes.

TOMPKINS: I love all of our children, I don’t have a favorite. But I do think what’s really important is that we designate places that have meaning and historical significance for different parts of the American public. For instance, the Cesar Chavez [National] Monument tells a story of the history of fighting for the rights of migrant workers. We recently had a number of schoolchildren from the area go visit that monument, and they were largely Hispanic, Latino children, who got to learn about one of their leaders. They were also children of migrant workers, migrant farmers. It’s really important that they have a chance to go to places and learn about their own history that’s reflective of the diverse population of our country.

NR&E: There’s been some debate about the impact on local communities from those national monuments.


NR&E: What are your views on that?

TOMPKINS: I think, number one, it’s important to get input from the local community that could be impacted from a designation. I also think that we need to remember that these designations can also lead to economic growth and are a very significant driver in our market for tourism, outdoor recreation, also for supporting scientific and historical research. So there are a lot of benefits that come from designating these monuments, and we need to balance conservation efforts with where it makes sense to develop the public lands from an energy perspective. I think it’s important to strike that balance.

NR&E: And those new regulations are going to do that?

TOMPKINS: All of them, yes.

NR&E: What are the top issues that you’ve dealt with over the last seven years? What are your fondest ones, and what are the worst ones? Help put some perspective on those, please.

TOMPKINS: I’m really proud of the work that we’ve done. When I first started, the first week I was here in 2009, Secretary Salazar at the time talked to me about the need to resolve the Cobell litigation. So that’s one of the things I’m very fond of. That was a tribal trust lawsuit involving nearly 500,000 individual Indians in a class action that’s considered the largest in United States history. The litigation had been going on for over a decade—really scorched earth litigation—and we were able to settle it. There were a lot of doubters at the time, and it wasn’t the most popular thing to do. But when you have strong leadership that says, “This is the right thing to do, and we need to make right the historic injustices of the past,” I was honored to be a part of that settlement team to bring that settlement home. That opened the door to settle a number of tribal trust lawsuits that were also pending that the tribes had brought against Interior. I’m really proud of our accomplishments in that regard. We’ve settled nearly 90 of those tribal trust cases, and we’re restoring the trust in the relationship with Indian nations in this country—I’m really proud of that accomplishment.

One of the harder challenging issues that we’ve encountered was certainly the Deep Water Horizon incident in April 2010. That was a very difficult time for the department. It required a lot of introspection and innovative approaches to address a disaster that truly was unparalleled in this country’s history. The hardest time was the 90-plus days that we met, the 90-plus days where we worked with the secretary to try and resolve the uncontrolled spill that we were encountering in the Gulf. I’ll never forget every morning going into the situation room and seeing that riser gushing oil day after day after day, and having to use your best judgment to advise the secretary of what was the next best step. We pursued various options. We had litigation surrounding all of those options and, even though we had setbacks, we were focused on doing the right thing for the American public. I think that in the end, all of the regulatory reforms and bureau restructuring efforts that we engaged in have set us back on the right course.

NR&E: Good. I noticed that BSEE has just issued regulations last week on . . .

TOMPKINS: The Well Control Rule. All of the lessons learned and the science behind that incident has informed the Well Control Rule. Hopefully it will be providing a safer environment to engage in development offshore.

NR&E: What was the favorite issue you dealt with besides the two tough ones? Do you have any fun issues?

TOMPKINS: Well, my favorite issues are dealing with the variety of issues that come before the solicitor. I love that my job every day presents something new, and I learn new areas of law every day. And I love that I can work with the leading natural resource and Indian law experts in this country in my office. The lawyers here are fabulous experts who I rely on, and that’s something I will miss dearly when I depart the department.

NR&E: Describe a typical day for you.

TOMPKINS: You never know what a typical day is, but for me, my day is very unpredictable. I might have meetings with the secretary, which is usually addressing some national issue of importance, advising her of her legal options. And then, for instance, today I met with a number of new lawyers who we’ve just hired, and I shared with them my experience here in the solicitor’s office and talked to them about their hopes and interests in their career here. Then I’ll have the opportunity to sign off on appeal recommendations, review a legal brief that we might be filing in the court of appeals or the Supreme Court. And then I’ll often hear about a new lawsuit that has been just filed. We have thousands of pending lawsuits, so I’m always hearing something new on that front.

NR&E: Which ones of those bubble up to you? Just those that are cutting edge or of major importance?

TOMPKINS: The ones that bubble up to me are the ones that involve policy issues that are of importance to the department, so they could be district court level. Or, if there’s emergency litigation practice. And then, of course, typically court of appeals rulings and certainly any Supreme Court practice. Those are the kinds of issues that come up to me and that have impacts on some broader policy objective. So there’s a wide variety of cases that I encounter.

NR&E: Do you think you put a thumbprint on resolving issues? Or on the new policy positions and the new legal issues that surface? And how do you put a thumbprint down, or are you always doing what the secretary or the agency or the department wants?

TOMPKINS: I do view the solicitor as being the keeper of the law for the department, and at times there are legal decisions that I make that do influence policy. I’ll give you an example. In Indian law context, we have the Supreme Court Carcieri decision, which concluded that tribes that were under federal jurisdiction in one year, 1934, were eligible to take land into trust. That holding by the Supreme Court left a lot of unanswered questions. Which tribes were under federal jurisdiction? And how do you determine that in 1934? So I issued an M-Opinion establishing a test to determine if a tribe was under federal jurisdiction in 1934. And that has guided us for the duration of this administration in deciding whether a tribe is eligible to take land into trust. So that was a legal question that I interpreted and it now has an effect on our program for taking land into trust. You have to meet certain criteria, and you have to show you had a relationship with the federal government before 1934 and demonstrate that that had not been terminated before 1934. Being under federal jurisdiction is not equivalent to being federally recognized. So all of those legal tenets impact a program that the DIA [Division of Indian Affairs] runs in support of tribes.

NR&E: What other thumbprints?

TOMPKINS: Other thumbprints, I would say, are obviously in our settlement decisions such as cases that we decide to settle, be it if we have an adverse ruling on the scope of, for instance, the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] that we’ve conducted. Sometimes we settle those cases and engage in more extensive NEPA analysis. In the Endangered Species Act area, we provide lots of advice about applying the Fish and Wildlife Service’s PECE policy [Policy for the Evaluation of Conservation Efforts When Making Listing Decisions], which looks at candidate conservation agreements and assurances and how do you apply that criteria and that policy in your decision making as an agency, often BLM and their records of decision on land use plans. So our legal advice is inextricably intertwined with the policy decisions of this department, and they arise when we exercise our FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act] authority to withdraw areas from review.

I’d also say a big part of our office that has left its mark is in the renewables area. We have been at the frontier of authorizing the first renewable projects on federal lands in this country, and I’m really proud of the work the solicitor’s office has done to ensure those are very strong legal decisions. We have prevailed in the courts time and time again on almost all of our decisions in that arena, so that’s where we’re also leaving our mark.

NR&E: Whatever has happened to Cape Wind? I heard a lot about it years ago, and now I haven’t heard anything.

TOMPKINS: Yes. Well, Cape Wind, that was the first offshore leasing wind project that was approved, and it’s in litigation. It’s in the appellate stage and we are waiting for a ruling from the judge in that case. But it raises some novel questions and interesting questions under NEPA and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the interplay of all of those legal regimes with authorizing offshore wind. So that’ll be a good indicator of where the law is headed on those new kinds of projects.

NR&E: What do you enjoy most about your job? You described some of it, I think, but I want a better picture.

TOMPKINS: Yes. I enjoy the problem-solving focus of this job and the rapid pace. I like that every new day presents a new issue, and you have to work with your colleagues to find a path forward that’s intellectually tight, legally sound, and good government. So every day presents a challenge, and it’s really rewarding when you figure out a path through those challenges day after day.

NR&E: I think that might be the reason I stuck around here for about 35 years. You have this wonderful view of the Washington monument from your office.


NR&E: Your desk used to be here at the other window.

TOMPKINS: Correct.

NR&E: It looked out at the Washington Monument. Why did you change it? Was it too distracting or . . .

TOMPKINS: I don’t know why, but some interior designer came in and moved it over there. (laughter)

NR&E: Without your direction?

TOMPKINS: I’m not in charge of the furniture. I’m not in charge of everything around here.

NR&E: What’s the least enjoyable aspect of your job?

TOMPKINS: The least enjoyable aspect is that you don’t get to have quiet moments to read all of the literature and case law on one issue, and you don’t have those moments to ponder the universe and think about one issue on a long-term basis. That’s the one thing that’s hard for me as a lawyer to not be able to do.

NR&E: You don’t have enough time to sink your teeth into all the aspects of an issue . . .

TOMPKINS: Correct.

NR&E: . . . or its background and do a literature search and . . .

TOMPKINS: Exactly.

NR&E: . . . discover stuff. You have to delegate that. But you’ve got 340 lawyers to do that for you.

TOMPKINS: And that is the thing that I love about this job is that I can rely on all of the lawyers in my office to help me solve those legal questions.

NR&E: Usually when I ask that question, the answer is it’s the paper work, the personnel issues, (laughter) the interoffice politics you have to sort through or decide upon. But you don’t have those problems.

TOMPKINS: I have a great administrative team. And I also am very accustomed to the politics of the practice, having done it now for the state and the United States for almost 11 years. That is second nature to me now.

The other thing I think I like the least is that it is tough for the solicitor’s office to handle the huge load of legal work that we face every day. We’re a small office. We have a small budget. Our main asset is our people. And we are working really, really hard and with limited resources. That’s something that I find very, very hard, and there are no easy answers when resources are so tight.

NR&E: How do issues get divided up between headquarters and the field? You referred to that earlier about the bubbling up. Yet, I imagine a lot of our readers who deal with the regional offices and field offices may want to know how that happens, the logistics and mechanics of that.

TOMPKINS: In Washington we deal with issues that are national in scope—high-profile rulemakings, Supreme Court litigation, and issues that are closely tied to the secretary’s agenda. And our regional folks are invaluable because they’re our eyes and ears out across the country, and they have great expertise in understanding the local dynamics in a given region. They also deal with certain priorities out across the country, such as the Salt Lake Region deals with RS 2477 issues, which is one of their hot topics in that region. That’s determining whether there are rights of way through federal lands. Our Sacramento office, for instance, deals with California water issues, given that’s in their backyard, and we have great expertise on that matter. Our Denver office deals with royalty questions and coal issues and oil and gas questions out in that region. So we also closely coordinate between our managers here in D.C. and out in the regions. With modern technology, we’re able to converse and transfer information quickly. So there’s a lot of cross-pollination going on as well.

NR&E: You mentioned coal. And you mentioned that Interior is at the forefront of renewables. The Department of Energy may argue with you on that, but tell me about the leasing of coal and the reclamation of abandoned coal mines and the reclamation of existing coal mines. They are big issues, especially when the price of coal or the value of coal is dropping. Is the AML [Abandoned Mine Lands] Fund sufficient? What are your thoughts?

TOMPKINS: We are taking a hard look at the coal program. We’ve announced that we’re pausing any future leasing in coal to do a PEIS [programmatic environmental impact statement], and we’re in the scoping phase of that effort. That hadn’t happened in over 30 years, and the time was ripe to take a look and say: Are we leasing in the right places? Is the leasing process competitive? Are we getting a fair return for the taxpayer and considering the environmental effects of coal, and climate change?

We need to ensure that what we’re doing on our public lands today as a steward of our public lands is going to be sustainable and supportive of the coal market from an economic perspective, but also with an eye toward longevity and environmental protection for future generations. So I think it’s important that we take this pause and look at the state of affairs and see if there’s anything we can do to improve the current state of play. The AML Fund issue is a very serious issue of concern, where we need to ensure that companies that develop our public resources can also reclaim the areas that they have used, and we need to ensure that they have the financial wherewithal to achieve that.

NR&E: Have the delegations to the states under the Surface Mining Act worked out well, and are the state mine reclamation pools sufficient?

TOMPKINS: I think we have concerns about whether or not those bonds are sufficient and whether what states are requiring of companies is sufficient. We need to ensure that we’re using our authority under SMCRA [Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act] to ensure that the public is not inheriting a legacy of degraded lands.

NR&E: The oversight of OSM [Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement] is on top of that?

TOMPKINS: Yes. We have been actively evaluating those questions. Stay tuned; there could be more on that before the end of this administration.

The other thing I want to note, too, is that one of the things we do in the solicitor’s office is CERCLA [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] response actions. That includes AML sites, and that’s a part of our practice that’s affirmative in nature. We have a number of sites across the country where we’re restoring the resources under NRDA [the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program], but also doing response actions with support from PRPs [potentially responsible parties] and reaching settlements to ensure those lands are restored.

NR&E: Will that give you another source of revenue coming from that direction?

TOMPKINS: Yes, exactly. There’s the [Central] HazMat Fund, a fund that supports efforts to provide response actions on those public land sites.

NR&E: Those toxic former coal mines out there . . .

TOMPKINS: There are, yes. And other hazardous sites that we are working affirmatively to restore.

NR&E: If you could change anything about the office of the solicitor, what would it be? More budget?

TOMPKINS: I would like to see more support for our attorneys and the ability to have the resources to support our mission and responsibility. And also to ensure that people understand our role as lawyers is to provide counsel and also provide solutions to long-standing problems. We are the glue that often helps find a path forward when there are conflicting missions or proposals. We have a bird’s eye view of the department, and I want people to know that the lawyers are often the ones that resolve those conflicts and find a path forward for the department as a whole. We’re problem solvers, and we can more realize those solutions for eternity through the written word. So I’d like people to know that’s what we do as we’re counseling the department and writing and editing the department’s decisions.

NR&E: So the structure and organization in the field office and all that is pretty well set, and you’re fine with it?

TOMPKINS: Yes. I think it’s critical that we have folks out in the field who understand the local issues and dynamics on the ground as well as [those who have] a central leadership role here in Washington, D.C. That has worked well, and I think it makes a lot of sense.

NR&E: What advice would you give to any successor?

TOMPKINS: My advice would be definitely to rely on your team for advice and counsel. Also, ask, “What is the written history on the particular issue?” and encourage debate and encourage those who don’t agree with you to speak up and explain why. The best decisions I’ve made have been when I’ve heard from all sides on an issue. We don’t just want “yes” people.

NR&E: There’s something about the career attorneys here that’s special. Do you have any thoughts about that?

TOMPKINS: Incredibly special. They are really the unsung heroes in my mind who have put in decades of work with little recognition. But they are heart and soul as committed to this institution, and it’s important for our future solicitor to know that they’ll always have the solicitor’s back and the department’s back and give the best advice that they can give because they want to ensure that it has longevity and preserves the institution. They are its best assets.

NR&E: Those bureau attorneys have thumbprints too, although they’re not named usually.

TOMPKINS: Exactly. And they understand how a decision today could have far-reaching implications for many years to come, so they’re very thoughtful. They view things with a long-term view, which is an important compass and guide for any solicitor.

NR&E: Any questions that I haven’t asked that I should or you want to comment on?

TOMPKINS: I did have one thing: It’s important to note that I’ve done this job as a mother of two girls. I started when my eldest was a year-and-a-half, and I have another baby girl, who is now two. I think it’s important to note that you can be solicitor and a mom to little ones. And so I think lawyers should always shoot for the stars, but also live your life fully in the process.

NR&E: You can have a life here that is full and fulfilling . . .

TOMPKINS: I believe it was important for me as solicitor to not stop living my life.

NR&E: There have been efforts over the years to make the solicitor’s office more fun. Less stressful. Improve the quality of life . . . Anything about the quality of life that’s on your agenda?

TOMPKINS: Well, it’s tough in these budget times to change things like salaries and those kind of benefits. But I have an attitude of not taking ourselves too seriously and we have opportunities to have fun as an office—be it our holiday party, or happy hours, or walking to view the beautiful cherry blossoms, taking time for reflections . . .

NR&E: Paul Smyth and I used to do that every year. We talked law and pending legal issues while we were experiencing the cherry blossoms.

TOMPKINS: We’re doing field trips. We hope to take a trip to the National Archives to see one of our senior lawyers who’s got a little exhibit over there or to the new national monument that was just designated for the Paul Sewall-Belmont House, which memorializes the fight for women’s rights and equality. Grabbing coffee and getting outside to just take a moment to reconnect with nature is really important.

NR&E: Any advice for young aspiring natural resources or environmental attorneys?

TOMPKINS: Definitely find an opportunity to work in the public sector because you will get more responsibility and more exposure to environmental and natural resource law or Indian law experts than you can imagine, particularly in the Department of the Interior.

NR&E: How’s the honors program?

TOMPKINS: Budget times have been tight. We revitalized it, but then we’ve had to cut back on that due to budget, and that just breaks my heart. I hope the next solicitor will reinstitute it if [possible], given budget realities.

NR&E: It always brought fresh views into the mix of the office.

TOMPKINS: I was an honors attorney at DOJ and it was an invaluable experience for me. I know a lot of the honors attorneys in the solicitor’s office have gone on, including you, Milo, to do amazing things, including our current deputy secretary, Mike Connor; our current assistant secretary of land and minerals, Janice Schneider; and there’s a myriad of other folks who have gone though that program and really gone on to do amazing things. So I hope we can reinstitute it.

NR&E: Good. Thank you, Hilary.

TOMPKINS: Thank you, Milo. I know we’ve been wanting to do this for a long time . . . and finally did it!
NR&E: You know, you’re the first solicitor I’ve interviewed for NR&E.

TOMPKINS: Well, great, I’m making history.

NR&E: Yes, you are.

Milo Mason

Mr. Mason is an attorney in Annapolis, Maryland, and a member of the Natural Resources & Environment editorial board. He may be reached at