By: Mary Gade
Mary A. Gade ('96): President, Gade Environmental Group LLC
Mary Gade is currently the President of Gade Environmental Group LLC, an international consulting firm that provides strategic advice on energy, climate, and environmental issues. Ms. Gade is an environmental attorney with extensive experience in environmental regulation and enforcement at the federal and state levels, as well as in the private sector. From October 2006 until June 2008, Ms. Gade served as the Region V Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Prior to this appointment, she was a Partner in the environmental practice group of Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal LLP in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
Previously, Ms. Gade was the Director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency under Governor Jim Edgar. During her eight years there, she was a cofounder of the Environmental Council of the States, served on the Science Advisory Board for the Department of Defense’ Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program and was a signatory to the creation of the Interstate Technology and Research Council. Ms. Gade has also held other senior management positions at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in key areas including Superfund cleanup, emergency response, and air quality. She served as the Deputy Assistant Administrator of U.S. EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response in Washington, D.C. Ms. Gade was named by Governing Magazine as a Public Official of the Year in 1997 and awarded the prestigious Richard Beatty Mellon Environmental Stewardship Award by the Air and Waste Management Association in 2008. Ms. Gade has a J.D. from Washington University School of Law.
Mary Gade Q&A
Q: Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in environmental protection?
A: I was inspired to pursue a career in the environment by growing up in Aldo Leopold's Sand County. In that area, glaciers plowed the land flat by his shack on the Wisconsin River but left the nearby driftless area untouched, creating high hills and steep valleys with some of the finest trout streams in the country. U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson's creation of the first Earth Day when I was in high school galvanized my interest in cleaning up and protecting the environment.
Q: What is your favorite class you have ever taken and why?
A: My favorite class was an introductory Ecology class at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in which the final exam was to design a society capable of lasting forever. As we face the dramatic implications of climate change, it seems more pertinent than ever to determine how to use natural resources sustainably and to protect public health and the environment.
Q: What advice would you give to those interested in pursuing a career in environmental protection?
A: I would encourage them to learn as much as they can about a wide variety of topics: science, engineering, economics, public health, law and policy, among other fields. All of these perspectives have something to offer when looking at how to address complex environmental protection problems. In addition, those interested in a career in environmental protection need to be open to change, because environmental protection is a constantly evolving and developing field.
Q: What area of public policy interests you the most and why?
A: I most enjoy being able to focus on complicated, critical, and emerging issues, from the initial development of the Superfund regulations and program, to convening states to address ozone transport, to reducing methane leaks that contribute to climate change, to understanding and addressing PFAS. Good policy solutions developed to address these problems can and should have a positive impact on public health, well-being, and the economy.
Q: Who in your life has been an influential mentor or inspiration for you?
A: I've been blessed with many mentors, but three who were critical are Valdas Adamkus, Bill Ruckleshaus, and Joan Z. Bernstein. Val exhibited personal courage and integrity; when making decisions and recommendations, he always asked the question, is it good for the environment? Bill also had tremendous integrity, having resigned rather than implement President Nixon’s order that he fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. Bill was the first head of the agency, and he came back to run the agency in the mid-1980s because the country and the agency needed him to restore the agency’s integrity. Joan Z. Bernstein was EPA’s General Counsel when I was hired as an entry-level air attorney. She was instrumental in supporting young female attorneys like me, and she helped to guide me over time into senior leadership at U.S. EPA and oversight of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.