Fred Krupp has built a reputation for pulling off seemingly impossible victories for green causes during his more than 26 years presiding over the Environmental Defense Fund.
He's the business-savvy activist who heralded the beginning of a new solutions-oriented wave of the environmental movement in 1986, a couple of years after he became EDF's leader; the man who convinced McDonald's to stop using Styrofoam in 1991 after years of fruitless boycotts and protests; and the University of Michigan-educated lawyer who talked a Republican president into endorsing a plan that set up market incentives for reining in sulfur emissions—and watched President George H.W. Bush sign the proposal into law.
But persuading congressional Republicans to lay off the Environmental Protection Agency and getting Washington to take action on climate change might just be Krupp's biggest challenge to date.
Since Republicans took control of the House, hamstringing the EPA's efforts to address climate change has been high on their list of priorities. GOP members argue that the decision to regulate greenhouse gas emissions should fall to Congress—despite a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that the EPA has that authority under the Clean Air Act.
Republicans, with the support of a few coal-state Democrats, have attached amendments to an assortment of legislation attempting to limit EPA's authority; none have been able to clear the Senate and President Obama has vowed to veto any such measures. The beleaguered agency narrowly avoided being done in by the budget deal earlier this month, although its budget was cut by $1.6 billion for the rest of the fiscal year.
Krupp isn't expecting the fight to be over anytime soon. Whereas once the EDF dreamed of seeing Congress pass comprehensive climate legislation, most of the organization's energy is now directed toward playing defense for the EPA. Krupp and colleagues are taking the stance that controlling greenhouse gases are not only about the politically charged issue of global warming; rather, public health is at stake.
"For 40 years, the Clean Air Act has protected public health and this is the first time it's under siege like this," Krupp said. "These rules will save thousands of lives, so we're asking members of Congress: 'How many lives do you think are worth saving? Do you think we should save fewer?' "
Although it doesn't look like the attacks on EPA will be letting up, if anyone has a chance of brokering a deal, it might just be Krupp. He's spent his career forging alliances with decidedly strange bedfellows and pushing market-based incentives to get corporations to do the right thing by the environment. It's a record that Krupp trumpets as one of his greatest accomplishments as the head of EDF.
"I'm proud of that work which shows that American industry can become more profitable by taking leadership positions on protecting the environment," Krupp said.
Fittingly, he frames his argument for the United States taking a strong stance in combating global warming as one centering around global economic competition. Krupp holds that the United States is falling woefully behind China on the clean energy front and that a Democratic-controlled Congress's lack of action on climate change showed a real failure of vision.
"It's about time for our Congress to end the stalemate and move into the 21st century, a century the beginning of which will be marked by this competition to see who can produce the new clean energy systems," Krupp said. "I think the time has come where we need that to happen right now, and it's not happening right now."
Krupp spent his undergraduate years at Yale University before going on to get his law degree from the University of Michigan. He worked in private practice for a number of years in Connecticut while also starting the Connecticut Fund for the Environment. He took over EDF in 1984, working to transform the organization from a small nonprofit to one of the most influential environmental groups around, commanding a $101.7 million budget in fiscal year 2010.
Krupp always had something of a green-bent—he remembers organizing the first Earth Day for his New Jersey high school in 1970. An engineering professor at Yale, however, convinced Krupp that environmental causes were his life's calling and also shaped his approach to advocacy.
"If people would just lower their voices, these problems are solvable," Krupp said. "Progress is possible when people sit down and listen to each other and listen to views and figure out how to move beyond posturing and shouting."
Now, if only he can get the 112th Congress to heed his advice.
This article appears in the April 19, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.