Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Monday, September 29, 2014

EPA administrator, alum Hedman to speak Friday at La Follette School

Susan Hedman Susan Hedman

The Clean Power Plan and other proposed climate change regulations will be discussed Friday, October 3, by 1979 alum Susan Hedman, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5 office in Chicago. She will speak at 1:30 in 8417 Sewell Social Sciences.

As Region 5 administrator, Hedman directs EPA's operations in the Great Lakes region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and works with 35 federally recognized tribal governments. She leads a team of more than 1,000 scientists, engineers, lawyers, environmental specialists and administrative staff in the Region 5 office.

Since the president appointed Hedman to the EPA in 2010, the Region 5 office has led the response to the Enbridge oil pipeline spill on the Kalamazoo River (one of the largest inland oil spills in U.S. history); accelerated cleanup of the Fox River (one of the world's largest environmental dredging projects); forced disinfection of wastewater discharged into the Chicago River (Chicago was the only major city that did not disinfect); cleaned up the largest number of brownfield and Superfund sites of any EPA region in the country; and led the nation in Clean Air and Clean Water enforcement.

Hedman is in the forefront of efforts to restore, protect and clean up the Great Lakes – she is EPA's Great Lakes National Program manager and is the leader of the multiagency Great Lakes Regional Working Group.

"I have the privilege of leading 16 federal agencies that are working together to implement the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative," says Hedman, who also will meet with professor Greg Nemet and students in his course Introduction to Energy Analysis and Policy. "Since 2010, the initiative has provided $1.7 billion to fund more than 2,000 projects across the Great Lakes basin to clean up areas of concern, combat invasive species, reduce runoff that contributes to algal blooms and to restore habitat to protect native species."

Hedman also led the U.S. delegation that negotiated the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada. It governs actions by the two nations to protect the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the lakes, which make up the world's largest fresh surface water system. The 2012 agreement includes new annexes relating to climate change impacts, invasive species, and protection of native species and habitat.

At the EPA and in her earlier positions, Hedman says the skills she learned at La Follette School precursor Center for the Study of Public Policy and Administration have been essential. "Strong quantitative and communication skills have been important in every single job that I have had," she says, "and they are essential in what I look for in job applicants. In my current position, management and budgeting skills are also critical."

Before accepting the president's appointment to the EPA, Hedman was environmental counsel and senior assistant attorney general in the Illinois Attorney General's office, where she focused on litigation and legislation relating to environmental protection, energy efficiency, renewable energy, carbon capture technology and associated consumer issues.

From 2000-04 Hedman was chief legal officer for the Geneva-based United Nations Compensation Commission tribunal that handled claims for environmental damage from the oil fires in Kuwait and releases of oil in the Persian Gulf, as well as the costs of de-mining and disposal of unexploded ordnance from the 1990 Gulf War.

Hedman earlier worked as an attorney at the Environmental Law and Poverty Center in Chicago, and taught at Northland College in northern Wisconsin and at the University of Maryland's schools of law and public affairs. In addition to her master's degree in public administration, she has a Ph.D. from the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and a law degree from the Law School, both at the University of Wisconsin—Madison.

Faculty engagement in public policy led her into public service, Hedman says. "Projects that I worked on with faculty during my master's got me involved in the energy policy process in Wisconsin state government — and, as a result, I went right to work in the state legislature as soon as I graduated," she says. "Because of the Wisconsin Idea, faculty and students at the La Follette School are not just engaged in an academic enterprise — they also contribute to the public policy process."

Hedman notes that she never would have thought about going on for a Ph.D. without the suggestion from Professor Carlisle P. Runge, who was director of what is now the La Follette School from 1976 to 1980. "I am very grateful to him for encouraging me to go in that direction," Hedman says. "I started law school when I finished my Ph.D. course work largely because I wasn't ready to write a dissertation and I wanted to continue learning—although sometimes I think the real reason that I finished three graduate degrees at the University of Wisconsin is that I just really liked Babcock ice cream and drinking beer on the Terrace."

"I have never had any 'career' goals," she adds. "My goal back then — and today — is to do something interesting, to continue learning and to try to make the world a better place. I've been constantly surprised by the opportunities that have come my way."