When I was growing up, we would spend our summers on one of the Lake Erie islands, enjoying the water, the wildlife, and the cool breezes. But as the years went by the water turned murky, "no swimming" signs were posted, and the lake winds began to carry the stench of fish killed by pollution. Those were the days when the Cuyahoga River caught fire, and when industry and cities treated the Great Lakes like open sewers. That's probably when I had my first thoughts of dedicating myself to defending the environment.
I started out as an environmental science major in college, but the pace was just too slow for me. I realized I wanted to be an advocate. After graduating from law school at Cornell, I spent a year as a law clerk for Judge Anthony J. Celebrezze on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit -- a great experience thanks to the judge, who was a wonderful human being. I then headed out to Arizona, a state whose natural beauty had captivated me on visits in my youth. I had clerked for the Arizona Attorney General's office during law school, and they invited me back after my clerkship to work on environmental and public health enforcement cases. The agency I represented had never had a full-time enforcement attorney, and there was a huge backlog of cases. We brought many enforcement actions to stop illegal dumping of toxic wastes, protect groundwater, and clean up unsanitary conditions in schools, food plants, and prisons.
It was satisfying work, but after three years another opportunity came along that was simply too good to pass up. The Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, a nonprofit public interest law firm, offered me a position in Tucson as an environmental litigator. This was a chance to work directly with environmental groups on a much broader range of issues, and I quickly accepted. At the Center, I litigated for clean air, clean water, and protection of public lands throughout the state. One of my cases went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where I won a decision halting the giveaway of millions of dollars worth of minerals from state trust lands. I also represented environmental groups on several ballot initiatives, and while working on one of these I met my future wife. Our son was born in Tucson in 1988, and there we enjoyed the beauty of the Sonoran desert and all its diverse wildlife.
In 1999 we moved to Washington, D.C., where I joined Earthjustice's office. I saw this as a great opportunity to work on national environmental issues and collaborate with a terrific staff of dedicated people. Since coming here I have in fact been able to work on a number of national matters, including suits to clean up air pollution in national parks and require stronger anti-smog measures in cities throughout the country. But the D.C. office also handles state and local issues in the mid-Atlantic region, and some of my most satisfying work here has been close to home, in suits to clean up the Anacostia River, the Potomac River, and Rock Creek, and litigation for stronger air pollution controls in metropolitan Washington. Just a few minutes away from my office in downtown D.C., I can slip into a kayak on the Potomac and within a mile or so upstream I'm in a wooded area with great blue herons, cormorants, kingfishers, and hawks. It means a lot to be able to work for the protection of places you have a personal connection with, even as you're also pressing for stronger national policies. I feel very fortunate to have both opportunities.
David Baron is Managing Attorney in Earthjustice's Washington, D.C., office. He received his undergraduate degree from Johns Hopkins University, and his law degree from Cornell Law School. He clerked for Judge Anthony Celebrezze of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and subsequently conducted environmental enforcement actions as an assistant attorney general for the State of Arizona. From 1981 to 1998, David lived in Tucson, where he conducted environmental litigation for the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest. He has taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Arizona College of Law, Arizona State University College of Law, and Tulane Law School. He has also studied environmental issues in Europe as a German Marshall Fund Fellow. He joined the Washington, D.C., office of Earthjustice in 1999. David lives just outside of D.C., with his wife and son.