Talking Climate Change and Food with Former EPA Administrator Judith Enck

Photo courtesy of Judith Enck

After serving seven years as Regional Administrator for Region 2 of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Judith Enck has begun the next exciting chapter in her career. Back in February Ms. Enck became the inaugural Visiting Scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. In announcing the news and welcoming Ms. Enck, Haub School of Law Dean David Yassky touted "her deep knowledge of policy making, government and environmental protection makes her an ideal candidate for the position." (The Elisabeth Haub School of Law, formerly known as Pace Law School, prides itself on being on the forefront of environmental legal education.)

Ms. Enck, who stepped down from her position at the federal agency on January 20, was the longest acting EPA Region 2 Regional Administrator, having been appointed by President Barack Obama on November 5, 2009. She was responsible for overseeing a staff of about 800 and an annual budget of approximately $700 million. Prior to her role at the EPA, she served for three years as Deputy Secretary for the Environment in the New York State Governor's Office. And prior to that she worked for eight years as a policy advisor to the New York State Attorney General. Her relentless commitment to environmental protection is widely recognized by many in the environmental community; one leader referred to her as "a bulldog on behalf of the environment."

Read on to learn more about Judith's Visiting Scholar role, her thoughts on climate change and her advice for students.

You're currently a Visiting Scholar role at Pace University's Elisabeth Haub School of Law. Please tell us about this role.

I am honored to be the first Elisabeth Haub Visiting Scholar at Pace Law School where I will have the opportunity to work closely with students and faculty on the need for strong enforcement of our nation's environmental laws. I served 11 years in state government and 7 years as EPA Regional Administrator, so I have a lot to share about how government agencies function and the new urgency of holding government accountable. Now more than ever, we need smart, fresh environmental lawyers, and Haub Law School is positioned nicely to provide this new legal leadership.

And a shout out to a new initiative to the Pace-NRDC Food Law Initiative launched in the Fall of 2015. This collaboration between the Haub School of Law Environmental Law Program and the Natural Resources Defense Council seeks to address the direct legal service needs of food justice organizations, food entrepreneurs and farmers by increasing capacity of the legal community to meet those needs through education of law students and training of lawyers. These legal services are fundamental to a more just and sustainable food system.

Climate change is a major focus right now given recent actions by the Trump administration. It also in the spotlight given recent data from NASA and NOAA which confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year on record and that both polar ice caps were at a record low extent for the month of December. How would you characterize the challenge that climate change poses to the US and the world? What should we keep in mind about the relationship between our food system and climate?

Climate change is the most serious economic, national security and environmental problem facing the world. 97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is here. We need a comprehensive strategy to reduce demand for oil, coal and gas. We also need to produce our food in a more sustainable manner and that involves shrinking agriculture's carbon footprint. Reducing food miles is one basic thing that would help. A top to bottom reform on federal food subsidies is also needed.

What is your take on the current US regulatory environment?

The current regulatory environment in Washington is of great concern to me. The public needs to be vigilant and follow every detail of what is unfolding in regulatory agencies. Career professional staff at federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency need to follow the law and be the firewall to ensure that the laws and regulations are properly followed.

What do you find to be your biggest source of inspiration from day-to-day?

I have a sense of urgency on many environmental problems, especially climate change. I know that one person can make a difference. I draw strength from my family and my friends and knowing that the majority of people want a clean and healthy environment. "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." We just have to help with the leading.

What advice do you have for high school and college students interested in a career within the environmental field?

My advice to students who are interested in the environmental field is that they should jump in with both feet. If they can't find full time jobs, volunteer. Make yourself invaluable. Use your social networks to bring more people to the table. Pick the issue that grabs your heart and your head and start working on it at the local or state level. At present there are a number of environmental issues that are serious and demand our personal attention. Writing checks to your favorite environmental group is not enough.

Theodore Roosevelt said: "Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." Looking back on my career in environmental protection and my current work at Haub Law School, I feel like I have won the prize.


Keep up with Judith on Twitter @Enckj

Keep up with Pace Law School on Twitter @pacelawschool