The Clean Water Blog

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Making a Career in Environmental Protection: from Canvassing to Chief of Staff

Lisa Plevin, Photo by Tirza Wahrman, Esq.Lisa Plevin, Chief of Staff for EPA Region 2, is one of us – a former door to door canvasser and community organizer of Clean Water Action. Lisa is essentially a Jersey Girl, having moved to New Jersey at age six, graduated from Stockton College in 1981 and immediately started her environmental career.

She started with Environmental Defense Fund organizing the first toxics conference of its kind in the Garden State. She then joined the world of door to door canvassing - the back bone of grassroots advocacy at organizations like Clean Water Action. At the time, her mom said, “Gee, are you really knocking on strangers’ doors? And what is it you are trying to convince them to do?” It was in those moments that her advocacy skills were born. Ms. Plevin learned early the importance of asking for something intangible, but oh so important—a safe and clean environment.

Lisa joined Clean Water Action’s staff in 1984. Her organizing and advocacy efforts helped us pass NJ’s landmark Clean Water Enforcement Act, the first state law to call for criminal penalties for violations of the Water Pollution Act. Lisa learned how to build coalitions - bringing together 85 organizations, including labor unions, local chambers of commerce, and business organizations, to push for this important legislation. She developed media skills, organized campaigns, volunteers and press events. Lisa had it in her to make things happen; but Clean Water Action played a key role in building up her confidence when it came to communicating a message to a large audience or one-on-one with public officials.

These are lifelong qualities that have carried her far in her now 35 year environmental career. In 1990, Lisa started her initial 9 year career with US Senator Lautenberg - first as Director of Constituent Services then as Director of Projects. She then served as Deputy Executive Director of Elizabeth Development Corporation (1999 to 2003) and later returned to Senator Lautenberg as Deputy State Director until 2010. Ms. Plevin remembers Frank Lautenberg’s love of the outdoors and how important issues around environmental health and safety were to him. He didn’t just talk about the issues, he fought hard and passed laws. Lisa was part of his success team.

Looking today from her senior position at EPA, Ms. Plevin’s personal advice to young people is to “continue to be outraged” in constructive ways to advance environmental protections – whether it’s preventing lead poisoning from paint and drinking water or removing toxics from the Hudson and Lower Passaic Rivers.

Passage of a law, regulation or cleanup sets the course for action, but the public must continue to be informed and vigilant, sometimes for decades, to ensure tangible results – clean air, clean water and healthy neighborhoods for generations to come.

Who knows what career path Lisa will take next. But one thing is certain… if she had not had the experience as a door to door canvasser and community organizer with Clean Water Action she would not have had gained the self confidence and skills to get her to where she is today.

If you care about the environment, have the passion and eagerness to learn, want to gain leadership skills as Lisa did, join Clean Water Action’s community outreach staff. It is more than a job. It could turn into a career. Inquire online or call 732-963-9714.