The seventh annual William K. Reilly Awards for Environmental Governance and Leadership, given by American University School of Public Affairs and its Center for Environmental Policy, recognized two career environmental champions — Kevin Fay and Linda Fisher.
The honorees are both known for their ability to build coalitions, manage teams effectively, approach their work with professionalism and integrity, and have been mentors to future leaders. They were honored at a ceremony on AU’s campus, which also included a scholarship presentation to two graduate students entering the field.
“This event draws attention to the many pressing issues that require first-rate policy analysis, innovation, and skillful leadership,” said SPA Dean Vicky Wilkins, citing the need to address climate change, water quality, and air pollution. “SPA and the Center for Environmental Policy want to contribute by educating the next generation of environmental leaders by convening forums to address challenges, leading research, and support the work of environmental leaders.”
Kevin Fay, a graduate of AU’s Washington College of Law, was honored for his contribution as a business and community leader. For nearly 40 years, he has worked with the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, collaborating with companies and associations to improve technology to address the ozone depletion issues. Fay is credited for his leadership in negotiating and implementing the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Depleted the Ozone Layer of the United States in 1987 and in 2016 was a leading voice in the Kigali Amendment to address hydrofluorocarbons under the protocol.
“The protocol, in my view, is the embodiment of sustainability principles — environment, economy, and society — and has succeeded in delivering benefits to human health and the environment while also expanding economic opportunity and ensuring the availability of technology for all countries — rich and poor,” Fay said. “It was fascinating to watch the world community come together under the crucible of a looming environmental crisis with significant political and economic uncertainties to solve this global threat.”
The second honoree, Linda Fisher, held many leadership positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, including deputy secretary, under three administrations and is former Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Dupont. Fisher was praised for her fairness, innovation, and courage in tackling complex issues.
At a time when there is lack of support for environmental policy at the federal level, Fisher says she remains inspired by action by states, ongoing support from the business community, and the new generation of college students committed to improving the environment. She said the “ill-informed attacks” on government science on climate or air pollution undermine public confidence in regulatory decisions.
“We need a strong federal regulatory presence that is grounded in law and science to set the guardrails around which industries will operate and provide environmental leadership both here and abroad,” Fisher said.
Keynote speaker and retired Indiana Congressman Phil Sharp encouraged lawmakers to pay attention to issues of equity connected to the environment, for supporters of the Green New Deal to be open to negotiating, and for individual to do what they can to solve the climate crisis. “This is no time for hand wringing. This is a time for action by all of us,” he said.
At the event, Caroline Nickerson and Sabina Blanco Vecchi, both first-year MPP students, were awarded Reilly academic scholarships. Nickerson plans to pursue her doctorate in environmental policy and work in her home state of Florida on issues related to natural disasters and climate change. Vecchi, who worked in Argentina for six years before coming to AU, wants to return to Latin America to develop innovative policies for climate change.