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Inside NRDC


Clearing the Air

Meet the team that helps keep our nation's Clean Air Act safe from harm.

Photo of Patrice Simms, John Walke and David McIntoshFor the past five years, a relentless assault has been waged on one of this country's most significant pillars of environmental protection: the Clean Air Act, passed in 1970. Rule after rule has been promulgated with the intent of eviscerating the substance of the act. NRDC has recruited a trio of experts who know the law and the inner workings of the Environmental Protection Agency and given them the resources they need to preserve this critical safeguard of our air and health.

John Walke, director, clean air program

ORIGINS: "I grew up in Aiken, South Carolina, where my dad worked for DuPont at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River site -- they made plutonium and tritium for weapons," Walke says. "Everyone I knew worked there." As it turns out, the Savannah site was the locus of many NRDC battles in the 1970s over radioactive waste disposal, and still is today.

EARLY CAREER: Walke graduated from Harvard Law School in 1993 and went to work for a private law firm that represented various industries, an experience he believes has been invaluable to his work at NRDC. "It allowed me to understand how companies think," he says. "I know how their lawyers litigate." He then worked for the EPA in the office of the general counsel, the agency's internal law firm.

THE WORK: As director of the clean air program, Walke makes decisions about which battles -- lawsuits, congressional debates, regulatory issues -- NRDC will join. "The beauty of our effort is that it's full-service: media advocacy, lobbying, litigation," he says. "We know what the EPA is going to do and when they're going to do it. There are lots of people at the EPA who deplore what's happening to the agency and to our environment," Walke says. "They know that I'm someone they can trust to voice their concerns."

David McIntosh, litigator

ORIGINS: "I was born in Pittsburgh, where my mom's family was in the steel business," McIntosh says. "My grandfather carried a clean shirt to work every day because the one he was wearing would be filthy by midday. But my interest in pollution issues didn't really emerge until I was in tenth grade, when I took an environmental studies course."

THE WORK: McIntosh is the air team's legal bulldog, writing and filing briefs and arguing cases in court. "Our job is to watch the EPA's implementation of the Clean Air Act like a hawk," he says. "If they change industry regulations in a way that undermines the act, we sue. If they fail to enforce some portion of it, we shine a spotlight on their failure."

RESULTS: In 2003, NRDC convinced a U.S. appeals court to block the EPA's "new source review" rule. The rule would have made it possible for power plants to upgrade their equipment without also upgrading their pollution controls. But the fight goes on: Since then, the EPA has continued to hack away at the new source review provisions of the act.

Patrice Simms, attorney, coal initiative

ORIGINS: "My parents had enough of city life by the time I was five years old," says Simms, who grew up in Maine, hiking, boating, and reveling in the rugged splendor of the coastline. He packed off to college and law school with a general interest in public policy, and was drawn to environmental issues as a summer associate at a law firm in Seattle, where he assessed the impact of a proposed logging project on wildlife habitat.

BACKGROUND: Like John Walke, Simms worked in the EPA's office of the general counsel, where he focused on vehicle, power plant, and factory emissions. He went on to review permitting decisions for power plants at the agency, a job that taught him about the technical specifications of these plants as well as the ins and outs of the laws that govern their permitting and construction.

THE WORK: More than 125 coal-fired power plants are slated for construction in this country. "Building just a fraction of them would swamp any effort to curb U.S. global warming emissions," Simms says. Last fall, he was one of several advocates to meet with officials in St. Lucie County, Florida, where a coal-fired plant had been proposed. Mercury emissions would pose an immediate threat to public health in the coastal community, he explained, and global warming pollution would harm not just Floridians, but everyone. The county officials listened and voted down the proposal.

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Photo: Drake Sorey

OnEarth. Winter 2006
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council