News | August 17, 2022

DJ Gerken named SELC’s next Executive Director

DJ Gerken, seen here talking to press outside the U.S. Supreme Court, was part of a team that argued against the since-cancelled Atlantic Coast Pipeline before our nation's highest court. (@Stephanie Gross)

Today our Board of Trustees announced it has appointed DJ Gerken as the Southern Environmental Law Center’s President and Executive Director, effective Oct. 3. Gerken, currently SELC’s Director of Programs, will take over the role from Executive Director Jeff Gleason, who is retiring after a celebrated 30-year career with the organization.  

“In my eighteen years at SELC, I’ve been inspired by my colleagues and clients, mentored by the most effective environmental advocates in the nation, and had the privilege of protecting the places and people across this region I love,” said Gerken. “I am honored by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary organization as it tackles our country’s greatest environmental challenges. This is the moment to build a better climate future and ensure a healthier environment for all, and SELC is the organization to lead the way for the South and the nation. I look forward to working with my exceptional colleagues and our partner organizations, and supporters to keep the promise of SELC.” 

A man wearing green rain gear stands in a long muddy ditch taller than him on both sides, looking up a steep hill with trees on either side of the ditch.
In 2007, DJ Gerken’s field work was a key component in proving ATV paths were causing significant erosion that was clogging mountain streams in western North Carolina.

Gerken began his career at SELC in 2004, working to secure major litigation and policy wins across his home landscape in western North Carolina. In 2011, he took over as Managing Attorney for SELC’s Asheville office, as well as serving as Interim Managing Attorney for SELC’s Nashville office from 2017-2019. Gerken was appointed SELC’s Program Director in 2019 and has guided strategy and coordination across SELC’s programmatic work since that time. A top-notch litigator, Gerken led key lawsuits that contributed to the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. He was also a lead litigator in the nearly decade-long coal ash campaign in North Carolina, which resulted in the commitment to clean up all coal ash in the state, as well as setting a precedent for other states in the South and beyond. 

Learn how this work led to the defeat of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

His appointment follows an extensive six-month search by a committee of the Board of Trustees assisted by BoardWalk Consulting, a national search firm specializing in CEO recruitment for nonprofits and foundations.

Laura Gates, chair of SELC’s Board of Trustees

“On behalf of SELC’s Board of Trustees, I am thrilled to welcome DJ Gerken as our new leader,” said Laura Gates, Chair of SELC’s Board of Trustees. “All of us are inspired by DJ’s passion, commitment, and talent, and our region has already benefited from his work. There is no one better positioned to lead SELC now. The organization is the strongest it has ever been, thanks to Jeff Gleason’s extraordinary leadership these past three and a half years. DJ is the person to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of the next era.”   

Jeff Gleason came out of retirement in 2019 to successfully lead the Southern Environmental Law Center through the organization’s transition from Founder Rick Middleton, whose vision and passion guided the organization from its 1986 start as a small two-person shop to a national environmental leader. Gleason joined SELC in 1991 to launch the newly formed energy program, before acting as SELC’s Deputy Director & Director of Regional Programs for nearly two decades, overseeing hundreds of cases and significant legal and policy victories. A national expert in clean energy and air, he has helped lead the transformation in energy policy in the South over the past three decades. During his time as executive director, Gleason led a strategic planning process that committed new resources to tackling two of the greatest environmental challenges of our time, climate change and environmental justice, and led and supported the staff through the time of the COVID pandemic.  

SELC Executive Director Jeff Gleason

“DJ has been a critical partner to me as he has guided and coordinated program strategy across the organization for the past three years,” said Jeff Gleason, Executive Director of SELC. “He is a great leader and mentor who brings out the best in everyone he works with. He understands what SELC can achieve and has the vision for how SELC must rise to meet the challenges of our time.” 

Prior to his 2004 start at SELC, Gerken was an associate attorney for three years at Shea & Gardner, and from 2000-2001 he clerked for the Honorable H. Emory Widener Jr. in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

As he assumes his new role, DJ will be returning with his family to Charlottesville, Virginia, home of SELC’s headquarters and where he received a J.D. from University of Virginia School of Law and a Master of Urban and Environmental Planning from University of Virginia School of Architecture. 

“Given his long history with SELC, his outstanding legal skills, his deep appreciation and respect for partner organizations, and his proven leadership abilities, DJ is the right person to lead SELC into its next phase. We will miss him in Asheville but we send him knowing he will bring to the larger organization the excellence he has brought to us for so many years,” said Julie Mayfield, Senior Policy Advisor at MountainTrue. The Asheville-based non-profit has been a longtime partner of SELC championing resilient forests, clean waters, and healthy communities in the Southern Blue Ridge.

Learn more about DJ Gerken’s early days as an SELC attorney.

“I’m one of the many staff members at SELC fortunate enough to learn from and be inspired by DJ over the years, so I’m thrilled about what this means for our work,” said Managing Attorney Patrick Hunter, who leads the Asheville office and has worked closely with Gerken since joining SELC in 2012. “It is exciting for us all to have someone with DJ’s skills, heart, and foresight leading SELC at this moment.”

I am honored by the opportunity to lead this extraordinary organization as it tackles our country’s greatest environmental challenges. This is the moment to build a better climate future and ensure a healthier environment for all, and SELC is the organization to lead the way for the South and the nation.

DJ Gerken, incoming President and Executive Director