Public Justice Attorney Jim Hecker to Receive 2015 Kerry Rydberg Award for Environmental Activism

Public Justice Attorney Jim Hecker to Receive 2015 Kerry Rydberg Award for Environmental Activism

By Aidan O’Shea
Communications Specialist

  Jim Hecker

Update: On March 6, Jim Hecker received the Kerry Rydberg Award at the Publc Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Ore. In the below video (the presentation begins around the ten-minute mark), past winners honor Hecker for making “an enormous difference” to the environment throught his career, and for fighting mountaintop removal coal mining and its effects, a struggle that’s “a ground zero for climate change.” 

In accepting the award, Hecker noted that public-interest environmental law is something he had to fight to be able to do when his career was beginning and the field was brand new, but that it’s all he’s ever wanted to do. 

“Public interest law is David v Goliath, but I’m still fighting,” Hecker said. 


Jim Hecker, director of Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Program, will receive this year’s Kerry Rydberg Award for Environmental Activism at the annual Public Interest Environmental Law Conference this March in Eugene, Ore.

Hecker, who in 24 years at Public Justice has litigated more than 40 citizen suits in 14 states under federal environmental statutes regulating clean air, clean water, hazardous waste, and coal mining, was selected for the award by a committee composed of past winners of the award, largely fellow environmental litigators.

“We are so proud that the PIELC has recognized Jim Hecker for who he is: one of the best, most resourceful, most effective environmental litigators in America,” said Public Justice Executive Director Paul Bland. “Jim’s creative advocacy has changed America, stopping some of the worst polluters and preserving mountains and streams. Every day I’m glad to have Jim as part of Public Justice.”

Charlie Tebbutt, the 2012 winner of the Rydberg award, said Hecker deserves this year’s award as a champion of grassroots activism and an invaluable resource to his peers fighting environmental degradation.

“Jim’s work has not just contributed to an important body of environmental law, but has resulted in major improvements to the environment, which is what we all work for,” Tebbutt said. “His work on mountaintop removal issues shows incredible dedication, perseverance, and success even in the face of the forces of darkness and destruction.

“Jim has also directly and indirectly assisted environmental lawyers around the country with his encyclopedic knowledge of citizen enforcement.”

Though the Rydberg award is given for an activist’s body of work, in just the past year Hecker helped secure a first-of-its-kind settlement establishing new cleanup obligations for coal mines that impair streams in Appalachia.

The award is named in memory of Kerry Rydberg, a young, promising environmental lawyer who died in a car accident in 1989. The award is presented annually to someone who exemplifies Rydberg’s “courage, self-reliance, commitment, talent, and dedication to representing citizens at the grassroots level in environmental matters.” 

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