A conversation with
NRDC’s New President, Rhea Suh
aised in the shelter of Colorado’s distinctive Flatiron rock formations, Rhea Suh developed a love of the natural world at an early age, skiing, hiking and fishing in the beautiful blue peaks to the west of the Front Range. That early appreciation for wild places led to a career of protecting the environment. Suh started out teaching environmental studies to high school students and went on to spearhead successful efforts to protect the Great Bear Rainforest and help lead the Department of the Interior.
As Suh takes the helm at NRDC, she says she’s energized by the opportunity to pass the same legacy on to her four-year-old daughter, Yeumi. “I believe that the vast majority of Americans are environmentalists,” Rhea said in an interview with Lisa Benenson, NRDC’s chief communications officer. “We value clean air and water and open spaces, and I think those values make our movement extraordinarily powerful.” Here, excerpts from their conversation:
Bear Lake © James Frank/jamesfrank.com; wolf pup © Tom Murphy/tmurphywild.com
up close during my tenure in govern ment and in foundation work. Without senior position in the Obama Administration. question, NRDC was always among the most strategic and effective. This How did that role influence your outlook is an organization that has a great as an environmentalist? combination of the pragmatic and the A: I served for five years as an Assistant hard-edged; it gets things done. In fact, I don’t think there would have Secretary at the U.S. Department of been any other environmental the Interior. The reach of the Interior organization I’d want to work for. Department and its impact on our NRDC is the definition of effective. environment is breathtaking. It manages 20 percent of the nation’s lands — Q: As NRDC’s leader you’ll be repre national parks, wildlife refuges and senting 1.4 million Members and public lands — and another 1.7 billion activists. What’s the number one thing acres of offshore resources along the they should know about you? Outer Continental Shelf. Interior is a A: I have a lifelong passion for environ unique agency charged with protecting mental issues, and that has only been our natural heritage for all Americans. bolstered by becoming a mother. We Our public lands are the very physical can and must leave the world a better embodiment of our democratic principles place for all of our children. NRDC’s as a nation. I can’t imagine a wider Members have long understood this window through which to view the collective responsibility. I am committed challenges and opportunities we face to ensuring that NRDC stays visionary, in this movement. resourceful and effective in carrying You’ve just left a
Q: What is it about NRDC that made
out this overarching mission.
you give up that job?
Q: Tell us about your parents.
A: I’ve had the advantage of seeing a lot of different environmental groups
A: My parents were both born in Korea and as young adults experienced
the tragedies of the Korean War. Like so many immigrants before them, they came to this country with outsize dreams of making a better life for themselves and their children. When they arrived in California to pursue their graduate degrees in the early 1960s, they had very little money and a tenuous grasp of the language but a reservoir of determination and belief that if they played by the rules, worked
I am committed to ensuring that NRDC stays visionary, resourceful and effective. hard and educated their children, they would succeed. I feel as if I have inherited their huge optimism for this country and their grit and determination it takes to make our dreams a reality.
Published on Jan 13, 2015
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