John Adams

Founding Director

John Adams cofounded NRDC, the nation’s first environmental advocacy group, in 1970. A former federal prosecutor and Wall Street attorney, Adams served as the organization’s first executive director and, later, as its president until 2006. Under Adams’ leadership, NRDC fought to pass the Clean Water Act, phase out the use of lead in gasoline, curb acid rain emissions from coal-burning power plants, and protect the breeding grounds of gray whales near Baja California from industrial development—among many other environmental initiatives. He also spearheaded NRDC’s campaign to win the classification of greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act in 2007, a victory in the fight against global climate change. In 2010, Adams was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He is chair of the board of the Open Space Institute and sits on the boards of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Duke University School of Law, where a professorship is endowed in Adams’ name. He is the author of A Force for Nature: The Story of NRDC and the Fight to Save Our Planet (Chronicle) and the upcoming A Force for the Future: Inside NRDC's Fight to Save the Planet and Its People (Abbeville Press). Adams holds a bachelor’s degree in history from Michigan State University, a J.D. from Duke University Law School, and an honorary doctor of laws from Duke University.


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