to help you guess who it is, here’s more detail re: “this person is pretty green”

Steven Welzer
17 min readMay 15, 2023

He is an environmental law specialist and an advocate for environmental justice.

Through litigation lobbying, teaching, and public campaigns and activism, he has advocated for the protection of waterways, indigenous rights, and renewable energy.

In 2018, the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 recognized two law firms for winning a $289 million jury verdict in Dewayne “Lee” Johnson v Monsanto. As co-counsel at one of the firms, he was also a member of the team.

Riverkeeper

He litigated and supervised environmental enforcement lawsuits on the east coast estuaries on behalf of Hudson Riverkeeper and the Long Island Soundkeeper, where he was also a board member. Long Island Soundkeeper brought lawsuits against cities and industries along the Connecticut and New York coastlines. In 1986, he was on a team of three law firms that won a case against Remington Arms Trap and Skeet Gun Club in Stratford, Connecticut, that ended the practice of shooting lead shot into Long Island Sound. On the Hudson, he brought a series of lawsuits against municipalities, including New York City, to properly treat sewage, and against industries, including Consolidated Edison, General Electric and Exxon, to stop discharging pollution and to clean up legacy contamination.

In 1995, he advocated for repeal of the anti-environmental legislation during the 104th Congress. In 1997, he worked with John Cronin to write The Riverkeepers, a history of the early Riverkeepers and a primer for the Waterkeeper movement.

He has written about environmental law enforcement.

Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic

In 1987, he founded the Environmental Litigation Clinic at Pace University School of Law, where for three decades he was the clinic’s supervising attorney and co-director, and as Clinical Professor of Law. He obtained a special order from the New York State Court of Appeals that permitted his 10 clinic students–second- and third-year law students–to practice law and to try cases against Hudson River polluters in state and federal court, under the supervision of him and his co-director, Professor Karl Coplan. The clinic’s full-time clients are Riverkeeper and Long Island Soundkeeper.

The clinic has sued governments and companies for polluting Long Island Sound and the Hudson River and its tributaries. The clinic argued cases to expand citizen access to the shoreline and won hundreds of settlements for the Hudson Riverkeeper. He and his students also sued dozens of municipal waste-water treatment plants to force compliance with the Clean Water Act. In 2010, a Pace lawsuit forced ExxonMobil to clean up tens of millions of gallons of oil from legacy refinery spills in Newtown Creek in Brooklyn, New York.

On April 11, 2001, Men’s Journal recognized him with its “Heroes” Award for his creation of the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic. He and his Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic received other awards for successful legal work cleaning up the environment. The Pace Clinic became a model for similar environmental law clinics throughout the country including Rutgers, Golden Gate, UCLA, Widener, and Boalt Hall at Berkeley.

Waterkeepers Alliance

In June 1999, as Riverkeeper’s success on the Hudson began inspiring the creation of Waterkeepers across North America, he and a few dozen Riverkeepers gathered in Southampton, Long Island, to found the Waterkeeper Alliance, which is now the umbrella group for the 344 licensed Waterkeeper programs located in 44 countries. As President of the Alliance, he oversees its legal, membership, policy and fundraising programs. The Alliance states that it is dedicated to promoting “swimmable, fishable, drinkable waterways, worldwide,” and is also a clearinghouse, approving new Keeper programs and licensing use of the trademarked “Waterkeeper,” “Riverkeeper,” “Soundkeeper,” “Lakekeeper,” “Baykeeper,” “Bayoukeeper,” “Canalkeeper,” “Coastkeeper,” etc. names.

He and his environmental work have been the focus of several films including The Hudson Riverkeepers (1998) and The Waterkeepers (2000), both directed by Les Guthman. In 2008, he appeared in the IMAX documentary film Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk, riding the length of the Grand Canyon in a wooden dory with his daughter ‘Kick’ and with anthropologist Wade Davis.

New York City Watershed Agreement

Beginning in 1991, he represented environmentalists and New York City watershed consumers in a series of lawsuits against New York City and upstate watershed polluters. He authored a series of articles and reports alleging that New York State was abdicating its responsibility to protect the water repository and supply. In 1996, he helped orchestrate the $1.2 billion New York City Watershed Agreement, which New York magazine recognized in its cover story, “The Kennedy Who Matters.” This agreement, which he negotiated on behalf of environmentalists and New York City watershed consumers, is regarded as an international model in stakeholder consensus negotiations and sustainable development.

In 2000, he and environmental lawyer Kevin Madonna founded an environmental law firm to represent private plaintiffs against polluters. The firm litigates environmental contamination cases on behalf of individuals, non-profit organizations, school districts, public water suppliers, Indian tribes, municipalities and states. In 2001 it organized a team of prestigious plaintiff law firms to challenge pollution from industrial pork and poultry production. In 2004, the firm was part of a legal team that secured a $70 million settlement for property owners in Pensacola, Florida whose properties were contaminated by chemicals from an adjacent Superfund site. It’s profiled in the 2010 HBO documentary Mann v. Ford that chronicles four years of litigation brought by the firm on behalf of the Ramapough Mountain Indian Tribe against the Ford Motor Company over the dumping of toxic waste on tribal lands in northern New Jersey. In addition to a monetary settlement for the tribe, the lawsuit contributed to the community’s land being re-listed on the federal Superfund list, the first time in the nation’s history that a de-listed site was re-listed.

In 2007 he was one of three finalists nominated as “Trial Lawyer of the Year” by Public Justice for his role in the $396 million jury verdict against DuPont for contamination from its Spelter, West Virginia zinc plant. In 2017, his firm was part of the trial team that secured a $670 million settlement on behalf of over 3,000 residents from Ohio and West Virginia whose drinking water was contaminated with the toxic chemical, C8, which was released into the environment by DuPont in Parkersburg, West Virginia.

Morgan & Morgan

In 2016, he became counsel to the Morgan & Morgan law firm. The partnership arose from the two firms’ successful collaboration on the case against SoCalGas Company following the Aliso Canyon gas leak in California. In 2017, he and his partners sued Monsanto in federal court in San Francisco, on behalf of plaintiffs seeking to recover damages for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, that, the plaintiffs allege, were a result of exposure to Monsanto’s glyphosate-based herbicide, Roundup. He and his team also filed a class action lawsuit against Monsanto for failing to warn consumers about the dangers allegedly posed by exposure to Roundup. In September 2018, he and his partners filed a class-action lawsuit against Columbia Gas of Massachusetts alleging negligence following gas explosions in three towns north of Boston. Of Columbia Gas, he said “as they build new miles of pipe, the same company is ignoring its existing infrastructure, which we now know is eroding and is dilapidated.”

Cleantech and renewable energy infrastructure entrepreneurship

In 1998, he, Chris Bartle and John Hoving created a bottled-water company, Keeper Springs, which donated all of its profits to Waterkeeper Alliance. In 2013, he and his partner sold the brand to Nestlé in exchange for a donation to local Waterkeepers.

He was a venture partner and senior advisor at VantagePoint Capital Partners, one of the world’s largest cleantech venture capital firms. He is a board member and counselor to several of Vantage Point’s portfolio companies in the water and energy space, including Ostara, a Vancouver-based company that markets the technology to remove phosphorus and other excessive nutrients from wastewater, transforming otherwise pollution directly into high-grade fertilizer. He is on the board of Vionx, a Massachusetts-based utility scale vanadium flow battery systems manufacturer. On October 5, 2017, Vionx, National Grid and the U.S. Department of Energy completed the installation of advanced flow batteries at Holy Name High School in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts. The collaboration also includes Siemens and the United Technologies Research Center and constitutes one of the largest energy storage facilities in Massachusetts.

He is a Partner in ColorZen, which offers a turnkey cotton fiber pre-treatment solution that reduces water usage and toxic discharges in the cotton dyeing process. He was a co-owner and Director of the smart grid company Utility Integration Solutions (UISol), which was acquired by Alstom. He is presently a co-owner and Director of GridBright, the market-leading grid management specialist. In October 2011, he co-founded EcoWatch, an environmental news site.

Minority and poor communities

In his first case as an environmental attorney, he represented the NAACP in a lawsuit against a proposal to build a garbage transfer station in a minority neighborhood in Ossining, New York.

In 1987, he successfully sued Westchester County, New York, to reopen the Croton Point Park, which was heavily used primarily by poor and minority communities from the Bronx. He then forced the reopening of the Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, which New York City had closed to the public and converted to a police firing range.

He has argued that poor communities shoulder the disproportionate burden of environmental pollution. Speaking at the 2016 SxSW Eco environment conference in Austin, Texas, he said, “Polluters always choose the soft target of poverty,” noting that Chicago’s south side has the highest concentration of toxic waste dumps in America. Furthermore, he added that 80 percent of “uncontrolled toxic waste dumps” can be found in black neighborhoods, with the largest site in the United States being in Emelle, Alabama, which is 90 percent black.

International and indigenous rights

Starting in 1985, he helped develop the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)’s international program for environmental, energy, and human rights, traveling to Canada and Latin America to assist indigenous tribes in protecting their homelands and opposing large-scale energy and extractive projects in remote wilderness areas.

In 1990, he assisted indigenous Pehuenches in Chile in a partially successful campaign to stop the construction of a series of dams on Chile’s iconic Biobío River. That campaign derailed all but one of the proposed dams. Beginning in 1992, he assisted the Cree Indians of northern Quebec in their campaign against Hydro-Québec to halt construction of some 600 proposed dams on eleven rivers in James Bay.

In 1993, he and NRDC, working with the indigenous rights organization Cultural Survival, clashed with other American environmental groups in a dispute about the rights of Indians to govern their own lands in the Oriente region of Ecuador. He represented the CONFENIAE, a confederation of Indian peoples, in negotiation with the American oil company Conoco to limit oil development in Ecuadorian Amazon and, at the same time, obtain benefits from resource extraction for Amazonian tribes. He was a vocal critic of Texaco for its previous record for polluting the Ecuadoran Amazon.

From 1993 to 1999, he worked with five Vancouver Island Indian tribes in their campaign to end industrial logging by MacMillan Bloedel in Clayoquot Sound, British Columbia.

In 1996, he met with Cuban President Fidel Castro to persuade the leader to halt his plans to construct a nuclear power plant at Juraguá. During a lengthy late-night encounter, Castro reminisced about his father and uncle, speculating that U.S. relations with Cuba would have been far better had President Kennedy not been assassinated.

Between 1996 and 2000, he and NRDC helped Mexican commercial fishermen to halt Mitsubishi’s proposal to build a salt facility in the Laguna San Ignacio, a known area in Baja where gray whales bred, and nursed their calves. He wrote against the project, and took the campaign to Japan, meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

In 2000, he assisted local environmental activists to stop proposals by Chaffin Light, a real estate developer, and U.S. engineering giant Bechtel from building a large hotel and resort development that, he argued, threatened coral reefs and public beaches used by local Bahamians, at Clifton Bay, New Providence Island. Following this, the new Bahamian government designated the area a Heritage Park.

He was one of the early editors of Indian Country Today, North America’s largest Native American newspaper. He helped lead the opposition to the damming of the Futaleufú River in the Patagonia region of Chile. In 2016, citing the pressure precipitated by the Futaleufú Riverkeeper’s campaign against the dams, the Spanish power company, Endesa, which owned the right to dam the river, reversed its decision and relinquished all claims to the Futaleufú.

Military and Vieques

He has been a critic of environmental damage by the U.S. military.

In a 2001 article, he described how he sued the U.S. Navy on behalf of fishermen and residents of Vieques, an island off Puerto Rico, to stop weapons testing, bombing, and other military exercises. He argued that the activities were unnecessary, and that the Navy had illegally destroyed several endangered species, polluted the island’s waters, harmed the residents’ health, and damaged its economy. He was arrested for trespassing at Camp Garcia Vieques, the U.S. Navy training facility, where he and others were protesting the use of a section of the island for training. He served 30 days in a maximum security prison in Puerto Rico. The trespassing incident forced the suspension of live-fire exercises for almost three hours. The lawsuits and protests by him and hundreds of Puerto Ricans who were also imprisoned, eventually forced the termination of naval bombing in Vieques by president George Bush.

In a 2003 article for the Chicago Tribune, he accused the U.S. federal government of being “America’s biggest polluter” and the U.S. Department of Defense as the worst offender. Citing the EPA, he said that “unexploded ordnance waste can be found on 16,000 military ranges…and more than half may contain biological or chemical weapons.”

Factory farms

For almost twenty years, he and his Waterkeepers waged a legal and public relations battle against pollution by factory farms. In the 1990s, he rallied opposition to factory farms among small independent farmers, convened a series of “National Summits” on factory meat products, and conducted press conference whistle stop tours across North Carolina, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Ohio and in Washington DC. Beginning in 2000, he sued factory farms in North Carolina, Oklahoma, Maryland, and Iowa. He wrote numerous articles on the subject, arguing that factory farms produce lower-quality, less healthy food, and are harmful to independent family farmers by poisoning their air and water, reducing their property values, and using extensive state and federal subsidies to impose unfair competition against smaller farmers.

In 1995, Premier Ralph Klein of Alberta declared him persona non grata in the province due to his activism against Alberta’s large-scale hog production facilities. In 2002, Smithfield Foods filed a lawsuit against him in Poland, under a Polish law that makes criticizing a corporation illegal, after he denounced the company in a debate with Smithfield’s Polish director before the Polish parliament.

Oil, gas, and pipelines

He has been an advocate for a global transition away from fossil fuels toward renewable energy. He has been particularly critical of the oil industry. He began his career at Riverkeeper during the time that the organization discovered that Exxon was using its oil tankers in order to steal fresh water from the Hudson River for use in its Aruba refinery and to sell to Caribbean Islands. Riverkeeper won a $2 million settlement against Exxon and lobbied successfully for a state law outlawing the practice. In one of his first environmental cases, he filed a lawsuit against Mobil Oil for polluting the Hudson.

He helped lead the battle against fracking in New York State. He had been an early supporter of natural gas as viable bridge fuel to renewables, and a cleaner alternative to coal. However, he turned against this controversial extraction method after investigating its cost to public health, climate and road infrastructure. As a member of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fracking commission, he helped engineer the Governor’s 2013 ban on fracking in New York State.

He mounted a national effort against the construction of liquefied natural gas facilities. Waterkeepers maintains a national watch that documents numerous crude oil spills annually. In Alaska, he was active in the fight to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the largest undisturbed ecosystem in North America, from drilling.

In 2013, he assisted the Chipewyan First Nation and the Beaver Lake Cree fighting to protect their land from tar sands production. In February 2013, while protesting the Keystone XL Pipeline he, along with his son, Conor, was arrested for blocking a thoroughfare in front of the White House during a protest. In August 2016, he and Waterkeeper participated in protests to block the extension of the Dakota Access pipeline across the Sioux Indian Standing Rock Reservation’s water supply.

He claims that the only reason the oil industry is able to remain competitive against renewables and electric cars is through massive direct and indirect subsidies and political interventions on behalf of the oil industry. In a June 2017 interview on EnviroNews, he said about the oil industry, “That’s what their strategy is: build as many miles of pipeline as possible. And what the industry is trying to do is to increase that level of infrastructure investment so our country won’t be able to walk away from it.”

Coal

Under his leadership, Waterkeeper launched its “Clean Coal is a Deadly Lie” campaign in 2001, bringing dozens of lawsuits targeting mining practices, which include mountaintop removal, slurry pond construction, and targeting mercury emissions and coal ash piles by coal-burning utilities. His Waterkeeper alliance has also been leading the fight against coal export, including from terminals in the Pacific Northwest.

He has promoted replacing coal energy with renewable energy, which, he argues, would thereby reduce costs and greenhouse gases while improving air and water quality, the health of the citizens, and the number and quality of jobs. In June 2011, film producer Bill Haney televised his award-winning film The Last Mountain, co-written by Haney and Peter Rhodes, depicting his fight to stop Appalachian mountaintop removal mining.

Nuclear power

He has been an opponent of conventional nuclear power, arguing that it is unsafe and not economically competitive. On June 15, 1981, he made international news when he spoke at an anti-nuclear rally at the Hollywood Bowl, with Stephen Stills, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne.

His thirty-four-year battle to close Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York ended when Entergy, the plant’s operator, closed the plant in 2021. He was featured in a 2004 documentary, Indian Point: Imagining the Unimaginable, directed by his sister, documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy.

Hydro

He has been an outspoken opponent of dams, particularly of dam projects that affect indigenous communities.

In 1991, he helped lead a campaign to block Hydro-Québec from building the James Bay Hydro-project, a massive dam project in northern Quebec.

His campaigns helped block dams on Chile’s Biobío River in 1990 and its Futaleufú River in 2016. In 2002, he mounted what was ultimately an unsuccessful battle against building a dam on Belize’s Macal River. He termed the Chalillo Dam “a boondoggle,” and brought a high-profile legal challenge against Fortis Inc., a Canadian power company and the monopoly owner of Belize’s electric utility. In a 3–2 ruling in 2003, the Privy Council of the United Kingdom upheld the Belizean government’s decision to permit dam construction.

In 2004, he met with Provincial officials and brought foreign media and political visitors to Canada to protest the building of hydroelectric dams on Quebec’s Magpie River. Hydro-Quebec dropped plans for the dam in 2017.

In November 2017, the Spanish hydroelectric syndicate Endesa decided to abandon HydroAysen, a massive project to construct dams on dozens of Patagonia’s rivers accompanied by thousands of miles of roads, power lines and other infrastructure. Endesa returned its water rights to the Chilean government. The Chilean press credits advocacy by him and Riverkeeper as critical factors in the company’s decision.

Cape Wind

In 2005, he clashed with national environmental groups over his opposition to the Cape Wind Project, a proposed offshore wind farm off of the coast of Cape Cod in Nantucket Sound. Taking the side of Cape Cod’s commercial fishing industry, he argued that the project was a costly boondoggle. This position angered some environmentalists, and brought him criticism by industry groups and Republicans. He argued in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal that “Vermont wants to take its nuclear plant off line and replace it with clean, green power from HydroQuébec — power available to Massachusetts utilities — at a cost of six cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). Cape Wind electricity, by a conservative estimate and based on figures they filed with the state, comes in at 25 cents per kwh.”

Political views

Criticisms

Throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, he was a persistent critic of Bush’s environmental and energy policies. He accused Bush of defunding and corrupting federal science projects.

He was also critical of Bush’s 2003 hydrogen car initiative, arguing that it was a gift to the fossil fuel industry disguised as a green automobile.

In 2003, he wrote an article in Rolling Stone about Bush’s environmental record, which he subsequently expanded into a New York Times bestselling book. His opposition to the environmental policies of the Bush administration earned him recognition as one of Rolling Stone’s “100 Agents of Change” in April, 2009.

During an October 2012 interview with Politico, he called on environmentalists to direct their dissatisfaction towards the U.S. Congress rather than President Barack Obama, reasoning that Obama “didn’t deliver” due to having a partisan U.S. Congress “like we haven’t seen before in American history”. He also accused politicians who failed to act on climate change policy as serving special interests and selling out the public trust. He accused Charles and David Koch, the owners of Koch Industries, Inc., the nation’s largest privately owned oil company, of subverting democracy and for “making themselves billionaires by impoverishing the rest of us”. He has spoken of the Koch Brothers as leading “the apocalyptical forces of Ignorance and Greed.”

During the 2014 People’s Climate March, he said, “American politics is driven by two forces: One is intensity, and the other is money. The Koch brothers have all the money. They’re putting $300 million this year into their efforts to stop the climate bill. And the only thing we have in our power is people power, and that’s why we need to put this demonstration on the street.”

U.S. foreign policy

He has written on foreign policy, beginning with a 1974 Atlantic Monthly article titled, “Poor Chile,” discussing the overthrow of Chilean President Salvador Allende. He also wrote editorials against the execution of Pakistan President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. In 1975, he published an article in The Wall Street Journal, criticizing the use of assassination as a foreign policy tool. In 2005, he wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times decrying President Bush’s use of torture as anti-American. Senator Edward Kennedy entered the article into the Congressional Record.

In an article titled “Why the Arabs Don’t Want Us in Syria,” published in Politico in February 2016, he referred to the “bloody history that modern interventionists like George W. Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio miss when they recite their narcissistic trope that Mideast nationalists ‘hate us for our freedoms.’ For the most part they don’t; instead they hate us for the way we betrayed those freedoms — our own ideals — within their borders.” He blames the Syrian war on a pipeline dispute. He cites apparent WikiLeaks disclosures alleging that the CIA-led military and intelligence planners to foment a Sunni uprising against Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, following his rejection of a proposed Qatar-Turkey pipeline through Syria in 2009, well before the Arab Spring.

Political endorsements

He was on the National Staff and a State Coordinator for Edward M. Kennedy for President from 1979 to 1980. Prior to that he had been on Senator Kennedy’s 1970 and 1976 Massachusetts senatorial campaigns. He was a co-founder and a former board member of the New York League of Conservation Voters.

In late 2007, he and his sisters Kerry and Kathleen endorsed Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic Party presidential primaries. After the Democratic Convention, he campaigned for Obama across the country. After the election, he was named as a front-runner for Obama’s EPA administrator.

He has been critical of the integrity of the voting process. In June 2006, he published an article in Rolling Stone purporting to show that GOP operatives stole the 2004 presidential election for President George W. Bush. He has written frequent warnings about the ease of election hacking and the dangers of voter purges and voter ID laws. He wrote the introduction and a chapter in Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, a 2012 book on election hacking by the investigative journalist Greg Palast.

Awards and recognition

2018, The National Trial Lawyers, Mass Tort Trial Team of the Year — for “groundbreaking case of Dewayne ‘Lee’ Johnson v. Monsanto Company”… he was co-counsel at one of the two law firms involved in the case.
2017, Earth Justice Mountain Heroes
2017, Foro La Region Award for “La Proteccion de los Recursos Naturales”
2014, Stroud Award of Freshwater Excellence
2009, Rolling Stone “100 Agents of Change”
2008, USC Dornsife Sustainability Champion Award
2008, Theodre Gordon Flyfishers Conservation Award
2007, Vanity Fair “The Green Team”
2005, William O. Douglas Award, on behalf of the Waterkeeper Alliance
2003, Professional Resource Award, NY State Council of Trout Unlimited
2001, Distinguished Service Award presented at Pace Law School’s 25th Anniversary
2001, Men’s Journal “Heroes” Award
2000, 12th Annual Manhattan Award
2000, Jacques Sartisky Peace Award
2000, New York State Champion of the Environment
1999, Time Magazine’s “Heroes of the Planet”
1998, William E. Ricker Resource Conservation Award
1997, EPA Environmental Quality Award
1997, The Brave 40 Award from NYC Department of Environmental Conservation
1997, Thomas Berry Environmental Award, presented to Robert F.Jr. and the Pace Environmental Litigation Clinic
1995, Green Star Award presented by the Environmental Action Coalition
1991, Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Award

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).