Environmental Integrity Project
Eric Schaeffer was planning to leave his job as EPA Director of Civil Enforcement, and we were more than happy to help him with the planning.
We got to know Eric in 2001 when he served on a conference panel we helped organize. At the time he was head of civil enforcement for EPA, and his enforcement initiative to limit pollution from power plants and oil refineries was under direct attack by the Bush Administration. Together, we identified the need for a new organization, one that could deploy a wide range of tools – including whistleblowing – to hold the EPA and other environmental agencies accountable.
We knew we had found the right person – Eric’s demeanor and professionalism were ideal for an organization designed to insist on public integrity. But the organization and support systems didn’t yet exist to help that right person take on this task.
Over daytime meetings (often at a Starbucks down the street from EPA headquarters) and evening phone calls, we came to understand that leaving EPA would be a huge personal risk for Eric. His career path would change utterly, and he had a family, with young children, to support. So we took our time. We identified partner foundations and began building a financial base that would enable Eric to take this risk. We planned a public launch for a new organization. We made it possible for him to commit.
In February 2002, Eric resigned his post to found the Environmental Integrity Project – and did so to great fanfare, with front-page stories in major newspapers and multiple interviews on national news programs.
Today, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) thrives. It focuses public attention on chronic violations of environmental laws, and demands real enforcement. Its work has led to substantial reduction of harmful pollutants from refineries, power plants, municipal water treatments, and factory farms. The EIP pulls together accurate data measurements of pollution levels, brings court challenges when necessary, and uses its expertise to empower grassroots advocates and enhance government enforcement efforts. Its work has protected the health of millions of Americans and undoubtedly has saved lives. EIP’s annual budget is now more than $2 million – virtually all of it from sources other than RFF.
- A focus on finding highly qualified individuals, rather than organizations, often leads to key breakthroughs.
- Agencies must be held accountable - and government usually takes the path of least resistance without a watchdog nipping at its heels.