It's appropriate that the deputy regional administrator of the Environmental
Protection Agency would have an epiphany on his 40th birthday while
fishing in a wilderness area on Bear Mountain.
"It just dawned on me that I had not been
doing enough of these kinds of things," Kerry Clough said from
his home last week in Evergreen Meadows. "It was a mundane realization
that I needed to spend more time in nature and not at the office, that
I've got to plan for the future so I could retire as quickly as I could."
His ideal retirement target was at age 58, but
ultimately he retired in January at age 60 after spending two more years
on an important causehelping to spearhead
the formation of a national senior policy council to deal with "Indian
country" environmental issues. Based in Washington, D.C., the 22-member
council is made up primarily of senior EPA staff with extensive experience.
By the time Clough retiredor
"graduated," as he prefers to call ithe
had served the agency for 37 years. His duties as the head honcho of
Region 8 included overseeing a staff of 770, managing a budget of $320
million, and serving six states and 27 Indian tribes. And he had received
three high-ranking meritorious presidential awards for his work, nominated
by state and federal officials and private-sector reviewers.
But one of the most memorable experiences Clough
had before he left the agency was attending a quarterly meeting in Utah
with environmental tribal directors of 27 Native American tribes.
"They wanted to know my parting observations,
and several said nice things about me," Clough recalls. "It
wasn't an award in the sense of a piece of paper; it was an honorary
speech thanking me for my career working with them."
Sadie Hoskie, director of the EPA water program,
said Clough has been honored on several occasions by tribes for the
work he has done.
"He was such a visionary," Hoskie
said. "He was a clear talker; he spoke a language that people could
understand that didn't contain bureaucratic language or legalese. He
wasn't scared away by some of the huge problems on reservations that
generally overwhelm people who are not familiar with that way of life."
Despite such accolades, however, Hoskie knew
Clough had his own particular style.
"People either really, really liked him
or didn't like himthey loved him
or hated him. There was no middle ground with Kerry Clough," Hoskie
said. "He was such a strategist: If you were a barrier, you didn't
like him; if you wanted to help remove barriers, you were with him."
Clough's vision the last two years on the senior
council was to fill regulatory gaps and provide equal environmental
protections on reservationsto improve
the quality of drinking water and air quality for reservations that
have gas and oil facilitiesamong
other goals. But he has actively worked on environmental issues involving
Native American lands since 1993.
Clough wrote the first regional environmental
policy on how to work with tribes for facilities inspections, enforcement
issues and tribal government. And, over the years, he and a team of
EPA staff have helped find funds to improve the environments of Native
American lands and have worked with tribal governments in achieving
One low point for Clough and Hoskie was losing
a case in federal court involving a dispute between a county and a tribe
over where to locate a sanitary landfill to serve three counties. The
tribe rejected the plan to have the site on its land, but a judge found
cause to remove the tribal boundaries to make way for the project.
"We were so disappointed," Hoskie
remembers. "We lost the case for EPA, but the tribe lost their
The ruling reduced tribal holdings from 90,000
acres to 40,000a "horribly emotional"
experience for all involved.
"It was something (Kerry) just took so
personally," Hoskie said.
Based on family genealogies, Clough could have
a bit of Indian blood in his lineage dating back a few centuries, though
it's unidentifiable, he said. But that was not the driving force behind
the work he did.
"My commitment to Indian issues comes squarely
from the lawfederal agencies have
a mission to carry that out equally," Clough said. "But maybe
a little of my pushing and striving come from the romantic side that
I have a little Indian in me."
Clough joined the EPA nine months after it was
created in December 1970 by executive order of President Richard Nixon.
"I was just finishing graduate school,
and I applied to the federal management intern program," Clough
said. "I had my eye on the new EPA agency. I found it interesting.
About 200 people interviewed, and nine were selected."
After that he rose through the ranks fairly
quickly, he said. By 33 he had a title that, in ranking, was similar
to a general in the military. The agency now has about 17,000 employees
Clough describes it as a "marvelous"
organization with low attrition staffed with public-service-oriented
people who are often as driven by their mission as those at NASA.
Though the EPA has had its "ups and downs"
over the years, he believes the agency has by and large been able to
do its job.
Two years before he joined the agency, a polluted
river caught fire in Ohio from the spark of a train passing overhead.
Today, it's rare for rivers to contain unregulated chemicals or raw
sewage that destroy animal life. In fact, Clough has seen dead streams
come to life again, with fish that are healthy enough to eat, thanks
to the efforts of the EPA.
And communities with acute air pollution have
seen the problem disappear, which has improved the health of those who
live in those areas, he said.
In fact, the current administration has had
some big successes, he said, by tightening requirements on emission
controls for diesel trucks in urban areasthough
the White House has only finally begun to acknowledge and address the
issues of climate change.
"There is a clear consensus among real
scientists that there is a problem," he said. "There are kind
of phony scientists aligned with certain industry that say there is
no problem, but usually, if you look at the credentials, they are not
in a field that would have the training to come to those conclusions."
How are we as a nation doing on climate change?
"We are not acting fast enough," Clough
Clough describes himself as an "optimistic
pragmatist and iconoclast." His favorite saying, nabbed from a
Jimmy Buffett song, is: "When you start to take this job seriously,
you're in trouble."
He grew up in Michigan, the son of an avid outdoorsman
who taught him to fish at the age of 5. He moved from Washington to
Evergreen with his wife, Nancy, in 1980. The couple have a daughter,
also named Nancy, who is a research cell biologist at the University
of Colorado Medical School.
Steve Tuber, an EPA assistant regional administrator
who has known Clough for 20 years, describes him as "one of the
most inspiring people anyone could work for," a leader who "pushed
all of us to do our best and think things all the way through."
"There are so many words that would fit
(him)," Tuber said. "Both fun and serioushe
was incredibly creative."
In reality, Clough knows the best two words
to describe himself: Buzzard Butt.
He earned the title in 1995 during a naming
ceremony by a Native American tribal leader from the Flathead Reservation
"He knew I had been doing a lot of work
with the Environmental Protection Agency," Clough said, remembering
the experience. "He asked me, 'Do you have an Indian name?' And
I said, 'No, I don't.' "
Officially "empowered" to assign one,
the tribal leader probed Clough with a few specific questions, including
his favorite animal.
"I said, 'The buzzard.' He said, 'Are you
The answer underscored Clough's sense of humor
and revealed his contemplative side. When the chief affectionately added
"butt" to the title, the name stuck.
"That is my favorite animal; that's the
serious answer," Clough said. "I devoted 37 years of my life
cleaning up other people's messes."