B.A. History/Political Science
Senior advisor to the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Environment
When Kenneth Mapp, governor of the Virgin Islands, wanted help recovering from the devastation left by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, he called Judith Enck ‘81. As former administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Region 2, Enck oversaw New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and could offer Mapp expert advice on dealing with the water pollution and debris in the hurricanes’ wake, as well as the air pollution resulting from diesel generators.
“He called and asked me to help out after the first hurricane hit, so I traveled to the Virgin Islands for two weeks,” Enck said. “What made it challenging was there was no phone and limited Internet. So, when I got home, I kept working on hurricane issues – it’s so much easier when you have phone and Internet access!” She continues to provide recovery guidance to the devastated islands and Puerto Rico, all of which are beginning the daunting process of rebuilding their infrastructure.
The making of an environmental activist
Enck left the EPA in January 2017 (“I had planned to leave on Inauguration Day, no matter who won”), spent a semester as a visiting scholar at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, and now works part time as a senior advisor to the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Environment, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. According to Enck, the organization spent decades effectively working to close the hole in the ozone layer, and is now focusing on her current raison d’etre: global climate change.
Enck appears each Friday morning on WAMC/Northeast Public Radio’s Roundtable program (hosted by Joe Donahue ’90). Another local claim to fame: Enck is the originator of New York State’s “Bottle Bill,” which since 1983 has been keeping litter off our roadsides and out of our landfills.
A little-known fact is that Enck discovered her passion for defending the environment as a Saint Rose student in the late 1970s. Her first project? “My friends and I designed the campus recycling program.”
Each week, the group of students would put boxes all over campus to collect papers. “Every Friday afternoon I would cajole my friends to go around and pick up the paper with me,” she said. Then, a young van owner drove her and the paper to Albany’s south end; the little money she received from the recycling facility went to pay for the van driver’s fuel.
Unbottling her potential
In her junior year, the history and political science major embarked on a fateful internship with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG). “The internship gives you real experience: You try to actually pass a bill in the legislature,” she said. “It’s not photocopying and running out for coffee. It’s ‘Here’s a bill, we’ll give you some guidance and support, now go and try to pass it.’ You’re thrown into the deep end of the pool.”
As her project, Enck was given the Returnable Container Act, a.k.a. Bottle Bill, which would require consumers to pay a five-cent deposit on soda containers. “I couldn’t pass it my first year, which I found very frustrating, so I did something no one had ever done before: I did the internship with NYPIRG a second time, while juggling a few classes at the same time,” said Enck.
The bill still didn’t pass. But Enck was determined to see the bill become law. After graduating in 1981, she took a job with the Environmental Planning Lobby (now Environmental Advocates) as office manager for $100 a week. “The deal was: During the week, I could lobby to help pass the Bottle Bill. On Saturday, I was the office manager,” said Enck.
In 1982, the bill passed. “It was a really big environmental victory and dramatically increased statewide recycling rates, reduced litter, created jobs, and gave me the idea that if you worked really hard and were politically savvy, you could pass bills in the New York State legislature,” said Enck. “Without my fully realizing it, passage of that bill into law launched my environmental protection career (and got many soda and beer drinkers mad at me).”
Protecting the environment and continuing the conversation
These days, Enck happily telecommutes from her home in Poestenkill. “I dragged my husband to New York City for the last seven years, so this time he picked where we were going to live,” she said. “We’re in a passive solar house that we built 33 years ago with our own hands, on a dirt road on top of a mountain – the opposite of our former Bedford-Stuyvesant home in Brooklyn.”
She’s no stranger to rustic neighborhoods, having grown up in the Catskills. “I went to a small public Catholic high school in Greene County where girls were not encouraged to apply to four-year colleges,” Enck said.
If it hadn’t been for a supportive young social-studies teacher, Chris Patka ’75, Enck might not be where she is today. “I had never talked to a college recruiter; I didn’t even know how to apply,” she said. “But my teacher pulled me by the ear and said, ‘I’m bringing you to visit Saint Rose.’
“She opened my eyes to what was possible,” she added. “If it hadn’t been for her, I probably would have gone to a community college. While there’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t think I would have been so aspirational in terms of what I wanted to do.”
It was during her first Saint Rose semester that Enck met the women who were to become her closest lifelong friends (and start the recycling program). “After dinner, we’d stay in the dining hall and talk for three hours,” she said. “We talked constantly, went to political rallies together, went to mixers; we looked out for each other. It was four years of a nonstop conversation that continues to this day.
“You meet really nice students and professors at Saint Rose,” added Enck. “These are people who are outward looking and see the world bigger than their own needs. Saint Rose was pivotal in getting me focused on the outside world and giving me opportunities to effect change. I’m really proud to be a Saint Rose graduate.”