The Southern Environmental Law Center is pleased to welcome its new Director of Regulatory Policy, Brenda Mallory, an esteemed Columbia Law School and Yale College graduate with more than 35 years of experience in environmental energy and natural resources law and policy.
How did the former General Counsel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and senior EPA official find her way into a career in environmental law?
"I stumbled into it," she says. “I joined a D.C. firm to support the growth of its commercial litigation practice and the firm was an environmental boutique. Soon I was developing expertise in environmental law and the rest is history.”
Growing up in an industrial, working class community in Waterbury, Connecticut, she says a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school, Westover School, just a few miles away in Middlebury changed the course of her life.
“I did not grow up hiking and spending time in the outdoors,” she says. “Westover helped me notice and begin to appreciate the physical and mental benefits of being in beautiful places.”
It was a beautiful campus on 145 acres, with the main buildings nestled on the edge of woods, trails, and a pond. She remembers, “My arrival there at 14 was the beginning of what has become a love for and sense of peace I find being outside.”
The policy interest came later. Though Brenda would go on to serve almost two decades advising the federal government on environmental issues, and later as executive director of the Conservation Litigation Project, she says, “ironically” her introduction to “environmentalism” left a negative impression.
Between college and law school, Brenda worked as a staffer at the Connecticut Human Rights Commission, focused on exclusionary zoning practices used to stop affordable housing.
“In that context, I understood arguments for strict environmental and zoning requirements as mostly ploys by cities to justify keeping restrictive housing policies in place,” she says. “Now, I have a better appreciation of the complexity of those issues as well as the broader national challenges we’re facing. I’m focused on protecting the environmental progress we have made, while understanding there’s a lot more to do to ensure that all communities experience those benefits.”
Continues Brenda, “Ending up at SELC with its broad environmental and climate portfolio and growing emphasis on securing protections for all communities, including those plagued by systemic environmental injustices, brings two ends of my work experience together in a way I think is pretty cool.”
Brenda says SELC seemed like a match made in heaven in other ways.
The Conservation Litigation Project, where she served as executive director for three years, was a two-person project leveraging partnerships with other organizations. “We did great work promoting protective public lands policies on federal land, but I really missed being part of a larger organization and the sense of community and satisfaction that comes with working with a group on a shared mission,” she says.
“When I heard SELC might be open to my joining the team, I was very excited.”
In her words: “Here was an organization, known for doing great and strategic work, having smart committed lawyers and other professionals, a collegial work environment, and working on issues that I am both interested and have expertise to contribute. It’s hard to ask for more than that, although allowing me to stay in D.C. was icing on the cake.”
Brenda has worked on a broad range of environmental, natural resource, and climate policies, particularly involving the National Environmental Policy Act, and clean water and toxics programs. One of the most fun areas of her work, she says, was supporting President Barack Obama’s designation of national monuments.
“I worked on 22 of 35 national monuments he designated under the Antiquities Act. Each was spectacular in its own way, revealing the history, ecology, and spirit of special places,” she says. “It was great learning about each area and being part of historic designations.”
As SELC’s Director of Regulatory Policy, Brenda will provide strategic advice and guidance to attorneys across the organization engaged in rulemakings and other agency matters at the federal and state levels. She will also serve on the staff management committee.
The wife and mother of three adult children says one of her favorite places in SELC’s six-state footprint is the Outer Banks, a special place her family visited in the summer for many years.
When she’s not working or spending time with her family, you can find her playing tennis, reading, listening to music, or cooking a pot of soup—(one of her favorites has 15 types of beans!)
And the esteemed lawyer couldn’t be coming on board at a more crucial time in SELC’s history.
“We are so thrilled that Brenda has joined SELC. As the former General Counsel of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and having served in multiple leadership positions during her 14-year career at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Brenda brings critical insight, experience, and leadership skills as we rise to address the most challenging and urgent environmental threats our country faces,” says Executive Director Jeff Gleason.
When asked why we need to act on climate change now, she puts it simply: “Because the planet’s burning up.”
She continues, “Climate change is a problem that we’ve been staring at for decades, and we just haven’t found the political will to step forward and take the necessary actions. And now, we’re truly seeing impacts almost on a daily basis that will hopefully propel more people to recognize we can’t wait any longer.”
To learn more about Brenda, read her biography.