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Profiles of Members of EPA's Asian-American and Pacific Islander Community: Ryland (Shengzhi) Li

Profiles of Members of EPA's Asian-American and Pacific Islander Community

Ryland LiRyland (Shengzhi) Li, Attorney-Adviser
Office of General Counsel, Air and Radiation Law Office
Washington, DC

Where were you born?

Beijing, P.R. China

What brought you to EPA?

I believe that the natural world is not merely something we exploit, but a community we are part of. Even as we draw on the land to sustain our lives, we also have an obligation to care for the land and everything in it. The world is interconnected, so by properly caring for the earth, we care for ourselves and contribute to a flourishing society. This is why I came to the EPA: because I wanted to care for human beings and for the earth. I am here to contribute to the agency’s noble and important mission of protecting human health and the environment.

What type of work do you do at EPA?

I practice law in the Office of General Counsel, with a focus on the Clean Air Act. Among other things, I counsel clients in the Office of Air and Radiation on federal biofuel laws, which support the use and research of plant-based fuels. These fuels may help lower greenhouse gas emissions. And they may promote America’s energy security by reducing the need for petroleum imports.

I also advise clients in the regional offices on the delegation of federal pollution control authority to the states. This is part of the “cooperative federalism” scheme of the Clean Air Act, where federal, state, and local governments share authority over air pollution control. In many cases, the federal government issues minimum pollution standards, while the states and local governments play the primary role in implementation and enforcement.

Lastly, I support the agency’s litigation in federal court, helping defend the agency in lawsuits, including suits brought by industry and other suits brought by environmental groups. In this role, I collaborate both with EPA’s technical and policy experts, and also with our lawyers in the Justice Department. We work together to persuade the courts that the agency has lawfully exercised its authority.

What is your highest level of education? What was your major?

I received my law degree from Harvard Law School, and a dual bachelor in economics and government from Dartmouth College. 

What message would you like to send other Asian Americans who are considering college or a career in environmental protection?

Go for it. Protecting the health of people and the land is one of the most important things we can do as individuals and as a society. We’ve inherited a good earth from our parents. Let’s leave behind an even better earth for our children: a place of clean air and clean water, a flourishing human and natural community, a good earth of abundant life.

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