Verna Harrison, 55: Foundation head
“My life has been devoted to the bay.”
Harrison is executive director of the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, a small but mighty foundation that will award $7.2 million this year to projects promising to clean up the Chesapeake Bay. Harrison was assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources for 20 years.
What do you mean when you say the bay is being suffocated? We have agriculture and air pollution hitting the bay, which causes nutrients to grow in the water. The nutrients feed algae, and the algae shut off the light that causes underwater grasses to grow. That drives the fish out and increases toxic blooms.
What needs to be done? We have to reduce pollution from agriculture and increase the capacity of small watershed organizations including waterkeepers.
Who is your “green” role model? Keith Campbell, a Baltimore investment banker who donated a large part of his fortune to start the foundation in 1999. He understands that individuals can be part of the solution.
Ken Cook, 56: Researcher, writer, activist
“I consider myself a muckraker.”
Cook is cofounder and president of the Environmental Working Group, an organization of scientists, former journalists, and researchers who pull together reports to expose what the government isn’t telling Americans. The studies often land on the front page of the Washington Post.
What are you proudest of? In 1996, we did a series of studies on the risks of pesticides to children that helped prompt the Food Quality Protection Act. We’ve stopped many bad things from happening. People come to us and say, “I need someone who can make this issue pop.”
What drives you? I used to joke that 80 percent of what got me into the office in the morning is that I was just pissed off. The way we’re treating our health and our planet is outrageous. That’s still true.
How do you get people to listen? The most important element is surprise. Surprise someone and you’ll open his mind.
Eric Schaeffer, 53: Lawyer
“Power plants have money to burn.”
After 12 years at the EPA, in 2002 Schaeffer blew the whistle on lax enforcement of the Clean Air Act. That year, he founded the Environmental Integrity Project, a group fighting air pollution one power plant at a time.
Why are you focused on power plants? There are about 400 coal-fired plants in this country—some of the dirtiest are in Maryland—and they’re big polluters. If you enforce the law, you can clean these plants up.
Is it hard for a plant to clean up its act? No, but it’s expensive, which is why they resist. When we brought a case against Hatsfield’s Ferry Power Plant in Pennsylvania, it was the fifth-largest emitter of sulfur dioxide in the country. Ultimately, it agreed to put a scrubber on, which removed 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide going into the air.
What motivates you? I recently visited a plant in Texas. It was 98 degrees and the flares were smoking, and it smelled like rotten eggs. I drove with the windows down. When I’m arguing about clean-air standards, I want that smell in my nose.