You grew up near Cancer Alley in Louisiana. How did that shape your view of environmental, health, and justice issues?
I can still remember driving between my childhood home near New Orleans and Baton Rouge to visit family. This stretch of land along the Mississippi River is lined with dozens of industrial and chemical plants and oil refineries. The sight, the smell, and even the taste of this place left a big impression on me. Even as a young girl, I could see the disproportionate burdens these communities were forced to bear.
It’s why I’m so passionate about tackling issues that intersect public health and the environment and what motivated me to go to law school. When I was with the Environmental Integrity Project, I was fortunate enough to work with Baton Rouge residents to improve a clean air permit for a large refinery. It was very satisfying to come full circle and work alongside the community.
Being a mother with two small children has only further emphasized the obligation we have to protect natural resources. Every child, every community deserves access to a healthy and clean environment.
You’ve worked both inside and outside of government. What have those experiences taught you about how to successfully accomplish advocacy goals?
I have deep respect for the scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other agency employees who have dedicated their careers to public service. After working as General Counsel for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, I have a personal understanding of the different tensions that agency leadership and staff have to balance and the limited resources they have to do their job. When it comes to building powerful and effective advocacy campaigns, this perspective is incredibly helpful.
I’m excited to continue advocating for stronger environmental laws and policies with CLF in Vermont. I’m ready to carry forward the organization’s reputation as problem solvers and creative thinkers who aren’t afraid to take on big challenges.
Speaking of big challenges, you’ve spent much of your career fighting for clean water. How do you hope to make a difference in your new role as head of CLF Vermont?
Water is fundamental to human life and has played such an important role throughout my life. One of my earliest memories is sitting on a dock in south Louisiana as my Grandpa pulled up his boat and unloaded fresh oysters. We all sat together in the sunshine eating oysters straight from the water, my feet dangling over the bayou.
Here in Vermont, we’re fortunate to have Lake Champlain and beautiful lakes, rivers, and forests, but we’re facing tough challenges protecting them. We’re also increasingly aware of the fragility of our drinking water resources. My experience working on clean water issues at the national level with the Environmental Integrity Project and here in Vermont gives me a unique frame to tackle these challenging issues.
What drew you to New England and to Vermont in particular?
I never considered law school until someone suggested I apply to Vermont Law School. The mission of Vermont Law School and their commitment to public interest law and the environment really resonated with me. Once I moved to Vermont, it just felt like home. After graduating from law school, I took a job in D.C. with the Environmental Integrity Project, but I was plotting my return to Vermont from the day that I left. Five and a half years ago, I had the opportunity to move back, and it feels great to put down roots with my family here.
Vermonters embody the democratic spirit, and there’s incredible public participation in decision making. There is also such a strong sense of community here. We’re the “brave little state,” often leading on important issues.
How do you and your family get out in nature?
We live in Montpelier right next to Hubbard Park. We’re in the park exploring almost every day. We have seen moose tracks, beautiful birds, and, in the spring, an amazing vernal pool that comes alive with life. It’s really special having a park like this right in town.
We also tap sugar maple trees with our kids and neighbors every year. We boil the sap together to produce our own maple syrup. It is a great way to get outside and reconnect with neighbors after a long winter.
And, we hike as often as we can – we’re so lucky to live near so many beautiful hiking trails.