Catherine R. McCabe ’77
As a child, Environmental Protection Agency judge Catherine R. McCabe ’77 spent summers swimming and catching frogs at her family’s home on Lake George in the Adirondacks. Over the years, air pollution from power plants caused the lakes in the region to become increasingly acidic, which damaged fish populations.
As the environmental impact grew more apparent, McCabe’s career provided her with the opportunity to help preserve that ecosystem—she litigated Clean Air Act cases as an attorney for the Justice Department’s environmental enforcement section. “The installation of pollution controls and the resulting significant pollution reductions have a direct benefit on protecting the lakes I love,” McCabe says.
But the impact of McCabe’s work extends far beyond the Adirondack region. As a young attorney in the early 1980s, for instance, she helped the Justice Department enforce the cleanup of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal outside of Denver. McCabe explains that the Army manufactured chemical weapons there through World War II and that subsequent corporate use of the land led to contamination of the area’s groundwater.
“We brought a lawsuit on behalf of the Army and the EPA, and we got the company to share responsibility for the long-term cleanup,” says McCabe. “Because we sued for $1.8 billion, it made the front page of The New York Times.”
In 2005, after more than two decades with the Justice Department, McCabe joined the EPA as the deputy administrator of its Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. There, she supervised approximately 800 agency employees. In 2012, McCabe began working as an administrative appeals judge at the EPA. It’s quite a change, she says. As a judge, McCabe presides over cases involving environmental permitting and enforcement issues. “It’s a very different aspect of the practice,” she says. “But it’s exciting to be reading, thinking, and writing law again.”