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NEW @ THE ACADEMY

Meet our Fellows: Dr. Stan Meiburg (‘19)

Dr. Meiburg is the Director of the Master of Arts in Sustainability Program and associated dual degree and certificate programs at Wake Forest University. He works with the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES).

From 2014 to 2017, Dr. Meiburg served as Acting Deputy Administrator for the EPA, capping a 39-year career with the agency. He is known for leading efforts to protect the nation’s air and water, clean up hazardous and toxic waste sites, build collaborative relationships with state and tribal environmental programs, and promote sound management in EPA.

Dr. Meiburg joined the EPA in 1977 in Washington, D.C., and later served as Deputy Regional Director of the EPA’s Atlanta office and as the Deputy Regional Administrator in Dallas, Texas. He was only the second person in the agency’s history to serve as Deputy Regional Administrator in more than one region. From 1985 to 1990, he served with the EPA’s Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards in Research Triangle Park.

Dr. Meiburg holds a B.A. in politics from Wake Forest University and a Ph.D. in political science from The John Hopkins University.

Here is a recent interview from Dr. Meiburg:

  1. How did you get involved in public service?

I was very fortunate.  I was a graduate student of Professor Francis Rourke at Johns Hopkins, a wonderful man whom Academy members may remember as a wise and insightful scholar.  Without his guidance I would never have finished my degree!

During my third year of graduate school in the fall of 1977, just after I had finished my comprehensive exams, Frank got a call from one of his former students who was working at EPA (at that time still a new institution).  The request was for a student who could assist with a three-month assignment triggered by the Carter Administration’s President’s Reorganization Project.  I had not been a student of environmental policy, but they were offering $1000 a month.  This seemed an enormous sum at the time, so I asked to be considered and was hired.  Three months turned into 39 years with EPA!

  1. Which of the Academy’s 12 Grand Challenges resonates most with you?

Not surprisingly given my background, the challenge to Steward Natural Resources and Address Climate Change is most compelling.  If we do not address our changing climate, it will frustrate the other challenges.  That said, this works the other way too:  success in addressing climate change is intimately tied to such challenges as fostering social equity, building resilient communities, and creating modern water systems, to name a few.

  1. Reflecting on your career thus far, is there a highlight, a greatest accomplishment or a funny story you’d like to share?

Stories teach us so much!  The extraordinary team that worked on the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments had many such stories.  The one that happened to me involved being asked by Senator George Mitchell, literally at midnight in his conference room in the Capitol, to call EPA staff in Research Triangle Park to get them to run an analysis of areas at risk of violating the air quality standard for ozone, and have it ready by 7:00 a.m. the following morning. This was in the days before the internet allowed you to just pull up this data yourself.

Senator Mitchell literally stood over me as I called the program director (who was asleep at the time).  Senator Mitchell was very specific and dictated how he wanted this analysis to be done while I was talking with the program director.  The director told me later that when I called, his wife (who answered the phone) turned to him and said, “It’s Stan Meiburg.  The EPA building better be on fire.”

The real accomplishment, however, is to look back and see how much better air quality in the United States is because of those amendments.  It should give us hope in addressing the challenges we now face.

  1. What advice would you give someone wanting to start a career in public service?

Other than, “free advice is worth what you pay for it”?  

Seriously, platitudes are not especially helpful.  In the long run, it takes hard work and persistence.  Beyond that, be flexible and open to opportunities (which may come from unexpected directions).  Develop and keep up your networks, choose your bosses carefully, realize that no one knows everything, and within a well-considered moral compass, do whatever the task at hand requires. 

  1. What was the best trip you’ve ever taken?

There is no one “best trip”, but the best trips combine connections with places and people.  For me this has included travel to places as varied as New Zealand, Missouri, central California, Jerusalem, the Pacific Northwest, and the Delaware and Lehigh National Historic Trail (a long bike ride!).  All marvelous locations, but made even more special by people! 

Travel nearer to home also offers great meaning.  Last summer we visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, a profoundly moving site dedicated to the telling the story of the thousands of victims of terror lynchings in the American South.  Everyone should go there.

  1. What was the last book you read or one that you would recommend?

Ron Chernow’s biography of U.S. Grant is a good reminder of just how fraught this period of U.S. history was.  Among contemporary writers, Dan Fiorino’s book, A Good Life on a Finite Earth, and Andrew Hoffman’s book, Finding Purpose will reward a thoughtful reader.  I have used both of these books with students here at Wake Forest.

  1. Do you have a favorite podcast, journal, newspaper, or other kind of media?

I am pretty old fashioned; I enjoy the New York Times, and the various publications from E&E News on energy, climate, and general environmental policy.

  1. What do you work toward in your free time?

Communities of faith have been important to me throughout my life.  I’m an Episcopalian and have enjoyed finding common ground between my work in environmental protection, teaching, and our calling to be responsible and faithful stewards of the gifts given to us in our communities and in the natural world.

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