DIVERSITY IN THE ENVIRONMENTAL MOVEMENT PANELISTS
Aaron Mair is the Sierra Club’s 57th president. Mair became a Sierra Club member in 1999, following a decade-long battle that he led to shut down a polluting solid waste incinerator in an inner-city community in Albany, New York. His efforts ultimately led to a commitment by the state to shut down the facility and provide a $1.6 million settlement award to benefit that community. Mair was also a key figure in leading the fight and securing the Sierra Club’s participation in the Clean Up the Hudson campaign, which resulted in a settlement between the EPA and General Electric to dredge toxic PCB sediments from the Upper Hudson River.
Mair has held more than three dozen leadership positions within the Sierra Club’s Hudson Mohawk Group and Atlantic Chapter, including Chapter Chair (2002-2003), Chapter Executive Committee (2002-2004) and Environmental Justice Chair (2009-present). He was elected to the national Sierra Club’s Board of Directors in 2014.
Throughout his tenure with the Sierra Club, Mair has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to grassroots action, environmental justice, and transforming the culture of the Sierra Club to make it – in his words – “a more welcoming environment to all people, regardless of their race or socio-economic status.”
Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica is a nationally recognized expert on energy subsidies who for more than a decade has worked to reform U.S. tax and budget policy in ways that reduce pollution and spark a transition to clean energy. Prior to becoming Friends of the Earth’s president in 2009, Erich served as the organization’s director of domestic programs. In that role, he designed and launched many of Friends of the Earth’s campaigns including efforts to bring emerging technologies such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology under greater public and regulatory control and to reform how the federal government manages and invests in our transportation system.
Washingtonian called Erich one of Washington, D.C.’s “40 Under 40: K Street's New Generation of Lobbyists.” He was named one of Washington’s “Green City Leaders” by Washington Life Magazine, and as one of the “Capital Region’s Most Influential Under 40 Residents.” He was also listed in Washington Life’s “Power 100” special report. He has testified before Congress and appeared extensively in the media, including on NBC Nightly News, the News Hour, Bill Moyers Journal and several MSNBC shows. Erich has been interviewed by National Public Radio and PRI’s Marketplace and has been quoted in publications including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Economist and Politico.
Erich comes from a family of farmers and educators in a conservative part of southwest Michigan. He discovered his passion for the environment while attending Western Michigan University. He is a trombonist and has played with the Montgomery County Symphony Orchestra, is an avid golf hacker, and enjoys working in his small organic vegetable garden with his wife Amy and son.
Peggy Shepard has successfully combined grassroots organizing, environmental advocacy and environmental health research to become one of the most highly respected environmental advocates in the country today. She has been a pioneer for advancing the perspective of environmental justice in urban communities to ensure that the entitlement of clean air, water and soil extends to all people and communities. A leader within New York City and the national Environmental Justice Movement, she is co-founder and executive director of WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT), based in West Harlem, which has over 27-years of history affecting environmental and health policy and practice locally and nationally.
She helped found the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance and the Northeast Environmental Justice Network to hold government accountable for the disproportionate impact of pollution and resulting health disparities experienced by communities of color and low income. She received the 10th Annual Heinz Award for the Environment for “her courageous advocacy and determined leadership in combating environmental injustice in urban America.” For “two decades of leadership in environmental justice and urban sustainability,” she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from Smith College at its May 2010 commencement. Her activism to build healthier communities by engaging residents in environmental and land-use decision making earned her the 2008 Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rockefeller Foundation, and she is the former chair of the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) where she co-chairs its Research and Science Workgroup.
Ms. Shepard contributes her time and expertise to serve on numerous academic and governmental advisory boards including NIEHS, EPA, and CDC, and has co-authored articles in Environmental Health Perspectives and the American Journal of Public Health. She is a frequent keynote and panel speaker, and serves on nonprofit boards including Environmental Defense Fund, Earth Day NY, NY League of Conservation Voters, NY Audubon and the News Corporation Diversity Council.
Rhea Suh is the president of NRDC, a leading nonprofit group that preserves clean air and water, protects people’s health, preserves wild landscapes, and fosters vibrant communities. Using legal and scientific expertise and the power of 1.4 million members and activists, NRDC creates the solutions and enforces the laws that safeguard our environment. Before joining NRDC, Suh served as the assistant secretary for policy, management, and budget at the U.S. Department of the Interior. Suh was nominated for the position by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2009.
Suh led several cross-cutting initiatives at the department on federal land conservation, climate adaptation, international affairs, and youth programs. She was instrumental in launching a complex reorganization of the agency responsible for offshore oil and gas oversight in the midst of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. She also led a diversity initiative that included the creation of Department of Interior’s first chief diversity officer, trainings and a network of diversity champions.
Prior to her appointment to the Department of Interior, Suh worked at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, where she created and managed a $200 million program dedicated to environmental conservation and clean energy in the West. Suh developed similarly far-reaching programs at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, where she worked from 1998 until 2007, designing the foundation’s highly effective clean energy and climate change initiative, and leading the creation of the Great Bear Rainforest. She also launched the “New Constituencies” portfolio designed to focus on environmental issues for underserved populations in the U.S.
Suh earned a B.A. in Environmental Science from Barnard College and received a Fulbright Fellowship to research environmental movements in Seoul, South Korea. She returned to the U.S. and worked as a senior legislative assistant for U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, then earned a Master's of Education, Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University.