Environmental Project Engineer Careers: Salary & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an environmental project engineering career? Get real job duties, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an environmental project engineer is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Being an Environmental Project Engineer

Environmental project engineers apply their problem-solving skills and scientific knowledge to projects that impact the environment. Read on to learn the pros and cons of becoming an environmental project engineer to decide if it's the right career for you.

Pros of an Environmental Project Engineering Career
High salary (median salary is about $83,360)*
Rapid job growth expected (15% from 2012-2022)*
Work in a variety of settings (office, laboratory, outdoor job sites)*
Specialize in several different areas (air, water, soil, industrial, hazardous waste regulation)**

Cons of an Environmental Project Engineering Career
Can be hazardous to your health (exposure to toxic chemicals, waste and safety hazards)*
Work when the project dictates (often more than 40 hours per week for those managing projects)*
Licensure requirements if serving the public*
May have to move to where jobs are (regulations, public priorities change)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Academy of Environmental Engineers.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Environmental project engineers serve as valuable members of project teams for government agencies and contractors, engineering firms and construction companies. They conduct the majority of their work either in the field gathering information or in an office preparing plans and reports and meeting with team members and clients. The following are examples of duties environmental project engineers may perform:

  • Designing environmental protection projects for soil and water treatment and remediation facilities, air quality systems and waste-to-energy operations
  • Preparing work plans and reports and obtaining and maintaining permits for environmental investigations and monitoring sites
  • Interpreting scientific data for quality-control purposes and presenting engineering calculations to regulators and clients
  • Consulting with businesses on how to handle hazardous waste and develop environmental protection strategies
  • Directing and developing other environmental engineers, scientists and/or subcontractors

Career Prospects and Salary

Thanks to the federal government's increased interest in protecting the environment and regulating drinking and groundwater, environmental project engineers are looking at better-than-average career prospects. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted employment for environmental engineers should grow 15% between 2012 and 2022.

According to May 2014 data from the BLS, the median salary for environmental engineers was about $83,360; those working for the federal government earned on average about $98,880 per year, while those working at the state level earned on average about $74,800.

What are the Requirements?

Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or a related field, such as civil or mechanical engineering, is the minimum educational requirement if you want to be an environmental project engineer. Make sure your degree is accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology). The BLS stated that some employers only hire engineers with accredited degrees, and an ABET-accredited degree typically is required to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE).

On-the-job training is also important. Employers value cooperative education experience at the undergraduate and graduate levels, and environmental project engineer positions may require several years of full-time experience.

Licensure

The BLS reported better employment prospects for professionally licensed engineers, and licensure is required in all 50 states in order to perform services for the public. To become a licensed PE, engineers must have bachelor's degrees from ABET-accredited programs, pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, work for at least four years under a licensed PE and pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. PEs must also complete continuing education requirements to maintain their licenses.

Job Postings from Real Employers

As an environmental project engineer, you can end up working in many different specialty areas throughout the course of your career, depending on government regulations and public health priorities. That's why it's important to continue your education with certification, standard and professional development training. The following are actual postings for positions open during April 2012:

  • A Fortune 500 company near Albany, NY, is seeking an environmental remediation engineering project manager with 8-12 years of experience and a B.S. degree in environmental or civil engineering. Candidates should be covered by OSHA Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard and able to lead and design soil, sediment and water projects.
  • An environmental consulting company near Salt Lake City, UT, is hiring an environmental project engineer with a specialization in air quality who has a working knowledge of air quality regulations and permits. The ideal candidate will also have experience working in the oil, gas and mining industries and with regulatory agencies.
  • A federal agency is looking for an environmental engineer in Denver, CO, to serve as the regional manager for drinking water regulations and ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. Candidates must have ABET-accredited bachelor's degrees in engineering.

How Can I Stand Out?

Earn a Graduate Degree

Anyone hoping to get a job as an environmental project engineer must have a bachelor's degree, so earning a master's or doctorate degree can help you to stand out among other applicants. Also, according to the American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE), employers may prefer candidates with master's degrees in environmental engineering, and having a Ph.D. can provide even more job opportunities. Some schools offer 5-year programs that combine bachelor's and master's degrees.

Develop Professional Skills

Environmental project engineers need to be strong communicators and able to interact with clients, executives, regulating agencies and community members. You might want to consider completing courses in public speaking and writing and taking every opportunity to polish your presentation skills while on the job.

Get Certified

Practicing environmental project engineers can choose from a variety of certifications, some of which are preferred for certain positions. For example, the AAEE offers PEs with at least eight years of environmental engineering experience the opportunity to validate their expertise by becoming board certified in a specialty area. Specialty areas include environmental sustainability; hazardous waste management; oil, natural gas, soil, and sediment investigation; water, wastewater and groundwater treatment; air pollution control; and industrial hygiene

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) also offers courses for environmental engineers who wish to specialize in handling hazardous materials. At the state level, you can check with the environmental protection department to see if it offers training or certification.

Other Careers to Consider

Environmental Technician

If you're passionate about environmental protection, but the education and PE licensure requirements are more extensive than you'd like, consider becoming an environmental engineering technician. They typically only need, at most, associate's degrees and work mostly in laboratories under environmental engineers. They conduct tests, analyze field samples and help environmental engineers get rid of pollutants and contaminants in the environment. The BLS predicted a 24% job growth between 2010 and 2020 for these professionals, and reported them earning mean salaries of about $49,000, as of May 2011.

Environmental Scientist

If studying natural sciences is more appealing to you than studying engineering concepts, you may be interested in becoming an environmental scientist. Like engineers, environmental scientists seek environmental solutions; however, they approach these solutions from a scientific perspective. They collect and analyze scientific data, make observations and present the findings in reports for clients, government officials, corporations and the public. Entry-level environmental scientists need at least bachelor's degrees in environmental science, biology, chemistry or a related field, and master's degrees may be necessary for advancement. According to the BLS, employment for environmental scientists should hold steady at 19% from 2010-2020. May 2011 BLS statistics showed these professionals earned mean salaries of about $69,000.

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