Remembering Mike McIntosh: The Earth Loses a Great Champion

Remembering Mike McIntosh: The Earth Loses a Great Champion

BY Arthur Bryant

The Earth lost one of its most dedicated, generous and creative advocates on May 7: Michael McIntosh passed away. Mike’s significance and accomplishments are difficult to overstate. Public Justice, its Environmental Enforcement Project, and many of the leading environmental organizations in the country would not exist without him.  

Mike’s death is a serious loss for all who knew him, many who didn’t, and for the planet he loved. 

Born into the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (better known as A&P) fortune, Mike was committed to preserving the environment for its beauty and future generations. He assumed control of the family’s McIntosh Foundation in 1971 and quickly shifted its focus to advancing environmental activism.

A warm and wonderfully-spirited man, Mike gave us (through his foundation) the $200,000 loan that, with our Founders’ contributions, enabled Public Justice (then Trial Lawyers for Public Justice) to open our doors in 1982. Within a year, his foundation gave us an additional $75,000 to create an Environmental Enforcement Project and bring the first 25 Clean Water Act citizen suits in the country. The law had just taken effect. All of the suits were successful.

In 1988, Mike told me he had an offer he was hoping I couldn’t refuse. He would let us repay the original $200,000 loan and return the money to us as a grant right away, if Public Justice would re-launch the Environmental Enforcement Project (EEP). This led to us hiring Jim Hecker, our fantastic environmental attorney, and to the EEP’s extraordinary series of achievements.

Since 1990, the EEP has litigated dozens of citizen suits against some of the nation’s largest polluters in more than fourteen states under all of the major federal environmental statutes. It won the largest Clean Water Act or Clean Air Act settlements at the time in Arkansas, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Texas. It has gone on to successfully sue oil refineries, power plants, coal mines, chemical plants, steel companies, and government agencies. Since 1998, it has led the battle in our nation’s courts against mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Due to Public Justice’s successes, coal companies have been forced to abandon mines, modify their plans for filling streambeds with mining waste, and spend millions of additional dollars on environmental compliance.

After helping us open our doors and offering funding for the EEP, Mike and his wife, Winsome McIntosh, continued to support Public Justice’s cutting-edge work over the years. The McIntosh Foundation repeatedly made sizable grants to us and contributed extraordinary environmental cruises with The Boat Company for fundraising auctions. Founded by Mike and his family in 1980, The Boat Company is the only non-profit educational organization offering luxury eco-cruises through Southeast Alaska. It “works passionately to conserve and preserve one of the Earth’s last great wild and beautiful places for future generations” and “inspires others to do the same.”

Incredibly, all of this is just a small portion of what Mike did to protect the earth. In 1970, he helped create the Natural Resources Defense Council, with his relatively small foundation matching a $400,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. He played a key role in, and served on the Boards of, several other national environmental organizations, including EarthJustice. Two years ago, he and Winsome founded ClientEarth to use advocacy, litigation and research to protect the earth and improve access to justice in the European Union.

Other non-profit organizations founded by the McIntosh Foundation include the Community Foundation for Palm Beach and Martin Counties, which has given more than $100 million in grants and scholarships since starting in 1972; Exponent Philanthropy (previously the Association of Small Foundations), the largest network of private foundations in the USA; and Rachel’s Network, an organization which brings together women philanthropists. 

A memorial celebration of Mike’s life will be held at 2 p.m. on Monday, May 18, 2015, at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, with a reception to follow at the Cosmos Club. In lieu of flowers, the family asks people to consider a contribution to The Boat Company. With all Mike has done, it’s a small thing to ask.

Mike McIntosh was a force. We have all lost someone special. And the Earth has lost a great friend and champion.

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