Peter H. Oppenheimer

Peter Oppenheimer
Peter H. Oppenheimer
International Section
Office of the General Counsel
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
U.S. Department of Commerce

Peter Oppenheimer, Chief of the International Section of NOAA's Office of General Counsel since 2006, oversees an office that provides legal counsel to NOAA and other federal agencies — including the Department of State, the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — on international environmental and oceans law, particularly the Law of the Sea Convention. Mr. Oppenheimer has participated in the negotiation, amendment or implementation of numerous international agreements that address vessel pollution, shipwrecks, ocean dumping, seabirds, and marine scientific research, among others. He is the principal legal advisor on the U.S. delegation to the Arctic Council’s Working Group on the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), co-chairs PAME’s Shipping Expert Group, and served as the U.S. head of delegation to the Arctic Council’s Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation (2015-2019).

Before joining NOAA, Mr. Oppenheimer was an attorney-advisor in the Law and Policy Section of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (1999-2006). He advised Justice Department officials on legislative and policy issues relating to vessel pollution, shipwrecks, energy, homeland security, and transportation and served as the principal Environment Division staff attorney on all oceans policy and legislative issues as well as handling amicus curiae cases under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Mr. Oppenheimer began his legal career in 1992 as an associate in the environmental, safety, and health client services group of the Washington, D.C., office of Bryan Cave LLP.

Mr. Oppenheimer graduated in 1992 with joint degrees from the Yale Law School (J.D.) and Tuft University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (M.A. in law and diplomacy). He received his B.A. summa cum laude from Yale University in 1986. Following college, he received a fellowship from the Federal Republic of Germany to study at the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich (1986-1987).

Publications and Speaking Engagements

Shipping through an Arctic Council Lens: The Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group (PAME), The Coast Guard Journal of Safety and Security at Sea, Proceedings of the Marine Safety Council (forthcoming)

Discussionist, “All at sea – mapping, mining and Arctic shipping,” Future TenseAustralian Broadcasting Corporation, Feb. 24, 2019 (audio download)

NOAA Unmanned Marine Systems: The International and Domestic Legal Framework (with Marty McCoy, NOAA GC Oceans and Coasts Section), NOAA Unmanned Marine Systems (UMS) Symposium, Stennis Space Center, MS (Oct. 30, 2018)

Symposium on The Law of the Sea Convention and U.S. National Interests, a panel with Greg O’Brien and Amb. David Balton on “Advancing U.S. Leadership in Oceans Governance,” University of Virginia School of Law, Charlottesville, VA (April 25, 2018)

PAME’s Shipping Initiatives under the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping AssessmentInternational Conference on Arctic Science: Bringing Knowledge to Action, Reston, VA (April 26, 2017)

Communication Seminar on PAME Shipping (with Drummond Fraser, Transport Canada), Arctic Partnership Week, Korea Maritime Institute, Busan, Korea (December 9, 2016)

The Arctic Council's Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation
 (with Molly Ma). In L. Heininen, H. Exner-Pirot and J. Plouffe (Eds). Arctic Yearbook 2016 (pp.155-160). Akureyri, Iceland: Northern Research Forum. 

The Move to Mine Deep Seabed Minerals (panel with Don Anton, Professor of International Law, Griffith University Law School and Caitlyn Antrim, Executive Director of the Rule of Law Committee for the Oceans), the Stimson Center, Washington, D.C. (March 27, 2015)

Arctic Region, in International Environmental Law: The Practitioner’s Guide to the Laws of the Planet, 933-962 (Roger R. Martella, Jr. & J. Brett Grosko eds., 2014) (with Brian Israel)

Aspects of Arctic Climate Change & Marine Geo-Engineering, Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY (April 7, 2014)

Trends in Arctic Shipping & Environmental Impacts, Conference on Emergency Preparedness and Response in the Arctic and the Bering Strait Region, World Wildlife Foundation, Washington,  D.C. (Feb. 25, 2014)

Emerging Issues in Deep Sea Policy (panel with Daniel J. Basta, Kristina Gjerde, James Kraska, Craig McLean, and Sally Yozell), the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Studies, Duke University, Washington, D.C. (Dec. 11, 2013)

The IMO Polar Code: Developments, Status, and Impact (panel with Prof. Lawson Brigham, Capt. David Jackson, Capt. John Mauger, and Mr. Bruce Harland), 5th Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations, Washington, D.C. (July 17, 2013)

Arctic Law: The Challenges of Governance in the Changing Arctic (panel with Profs. Don Rothwell, Suzanne Lalonde and Betsy Baker), American Society of International Law, 107th Annual Meeting, International Law in a Multipolar World, Washington, D.C. (April 6, 2013)

International and U.S. Laws Protecting Underwater Cultural Heritage, The Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, 4th Annual Conference, From Plunder to Preservation: The Untold Story of Cultural Heritage, World War II, and the Pacific, Washington, D.C. (Nov. 9, 2012)

Global Law Scholars Fellowship Program Luncheon, Georgetown University Law Center (April 10, 2012)

"Careers in Environmental Law at NOAA," Environmental Law and Policy Program Careers in Environmental Law Speaker Series, University of Michigan Law School, Ann Arbor, MI (Feb. 13, 2012)

Ban on the Use and Carriage of Heavy Grade Oils in Antarctica, 13 ABA Int’l Envt’l L. Committee Newsletter 18 (May 2011)

"New Approaches to Arctic Environmental Management" at the 16th Annual Herbert Rubin and Justice Rose Luttan Rubin International Law Symposium: On Thin Ice – International Law and Environmental Protection in a Melting Arctic, New York University Law School, New York, NY (Oct. 22, 2010)

International Environmental Law: Marine Conservation (International Legal Developments in Review: 2009), 44 Int'l Law. 503 (Spring 2010) (with David R. Downes, Joseph W. Dellapena, Joseph Freedman, Royal Gardner, Emily J. Hildreth, Richard A. Horsch, et al.)

International Environmental Law: 2009 Annual Report, 2009 ABA Env't Energy & Resources L: Year in Rev. 100 (2009) (with Kevin Doran, Joseph Freedman, Adam Reed, Justin Smith, Jennifer Wills, et al.)

"The 1982 UN Law of the Sea Convention: A Primer," Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. (April 14, 2009)

International Environmental Law: 2008 Annual Report, 2008 ABA Env't Energy & Resource L. Year in Rev. 92 (2008) (with Kevin Doran, Peter Z. Ford, Joseph Freedman, David Gravallese, Jennifer Wills, et al.)

Implementing the International Agreement to Protect RMS Titanic, 9 ABA Int'l Envt’l L. Committee Newsletter 14 (Dec. 2006) (with Ole Varmer)


District of Columbia Bar Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Section

City of Falls Church Environmental Sustainability Council


2017 Department of State Group Meritorious Honor Award,  Arctic Council – Task Force (for steadfast leadership of the Arctic Council’s Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation during the U.S. Chairmanship – 2015-2017)

2016 Certificate of Appreciation from NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and Office of National Marine Sanctuary for participation and support in the identification, documentation, mapping and sharing the story of the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Robert J. Walker and its crew, lost off Absecon Inlet, NJ on June 21, 1860.

2012 Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award (as a member of the NOAA Buoy Protection Team for exceptional cross-NOAA collaboration to internationally protect networks of data collection buoys from intentional and unintentional damage)

2010 Distinguished Service Award, Office of General Counsel, U.S. Department of Commerce (for work at the International Maritime Organization on the negotiation and adoption of an amendment to Annex I of the International Convention on the Prevention of Pollution from ships to ban the use of carriage of heavy grade oils by vessels in Antarctic and Southern Ocean waters)

2009 Manager of the Year, NOAA Office of General Counsel

2008 NOAA Administrator’s Award (as a member of the team that secured international protections for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument to protect the world’s most pristine coral reef ecosystem)

2003 Assistant Attorney General’s Award for Excellence, U.S. Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division

 Last updated November 17, 2020