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John H. Adams, Founding Director, New York City

John H. Adams
co-founded the Natural Resources Defense Council in 1970, serving as NRDC's executive director and later president from its inception until 2006 -- a tenure unparalleled by the leader of any other environmental organization. As NRDC's founding director, Adams continues to play an active role in the organization on the local, national and international levels. In February 2011, Adams received the Presidential Medal of Freedom -- our nation's highest civilian honor -- from President Obama, who referenced Rolling Stone Magazine's description of Adams when announcing the award: "If the planet has a lawyer, it's John Adams."

In 2010, Adams and his wife Patricia co-authored A Force for Nature, a memoir recounting their forty years of battles and victories with NRDC. He is currently chair of the board of the Open Space Institute and sits on the boards of numerous other environmental organizations. He has also served on governmental advisory committees, including President Clinton's Council for Sustainable Development. Prior to his work at NRDC, Adams served as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. He is a graduate of Michigan State University and the Duke University School of Law. Adams lives in Catskills mountains of New York, not far from the farm where he was raised.

Recent Posts

Redford Never Shies from Taking on Big Polluters to Protect Our Natural Heritage

Posted October 20, 2012 by John H. Adams

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Comments (6)

Robert Redford was five years old when his grandfather handed him a fishing rod, a gun and a challenge to roam wild across the lakes, fields and forests of the Texas hill country. So began a life of discovery—and a...continued

A Pivotal Moment: Act Now to Ban Trafficking of Polar Bears for Profit

Posted May 24, 2012 by John H. Adams

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Comments (10)

Over the past few years, polar bears have become a symbol for the urgent need to confront climate change. My grandchildren and thousands of other school children know that if we fail to limit carbon pollution, polar bears could be...continued

Tar Sands Pipeline Protest at the White House: A Huge Success and an Historic Turning Point

Posted November 7, 2011 by John H. Adams

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I just had one of the most energizing days of my life. I spent Sunday standing with as many as 15,000 people in an enormous circle around the White House. All of us came to tell President Obama to reject...continued

Why I Am Joining the November 6 Action against the Keystone XL Pipeline

Posted October 20, 2011 by John H. Adams

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Comments (4)

On November 6, I will be leading a group of NRDC members and experts to the White House. The last time I visited 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, I had the honor of receiving the Medal of Freedom in recognition of what...continued

Don't Water Down the Clean Water Act

Posted June 23, 2011 by John H. Adams

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Here's an idea. Let's let the governor of West Virginia decide how much coal waste gets dumped into rivers flowing into North Carolina.  How about the folks in Kentucky do the same for their neighbors in  Tennessee. While we're at...continued

In Bryson, Obama Has Nominated a Leader of Uncommon Substance and Character

Posted June 8, 2011 by John H. Adams

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President Obama recently nominated John Bryson for the position of Secretary of Commerce. I have known Bryson for more than 40 years, and I have watched with admiration as he excelled as a both a business leader and a public...continued

Long Before BP Spill, Leaders of Both Parties Knew We Can't Drill Our Way Out of Oil Addiction

Posted April 20, 2011 by John H. Adams

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Skirting the banks of the Mississippi River in the last few miles before it gives itself over to the Gulf of Mexico, it’s easy to imagine you’re nearing some far end of the Earth. High tide swamps the roadway. Great...continued

Receiving the Medal of Freedom, Celebrating an NRDC Team Victory

Posted February 18, 2011 by John H. Adams

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This week, I had the extraordinary honor of receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama. I accepted this honor on behalf of the people who really made it possible: the staff and supporters of NRDC. I am just...continued

New DEC head has a long record for protecting NY's environment

Posted January 4, 2011 by John H. Adams

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Incoming New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation a much needed boost today, by selecting Open Space Institute (OSI) president Joe Martens as its new commissioner. I have worked closely with Joe for many years,...continued

Our New Book Offers a Roadmap for Making Change and Protecting the Environment

Posted October 5, 2010 by John H. Adams

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Forty years ago, a very distinguished group of lawyers fought to stop Con Edison from building a power plant on Storm King Mountain in the Hudson Highlands.  They soon realized that a public interest law firm should be established so...continued

The Clean Air Act at 40: Still Vulnerable to Polluters' Falsehoods

Posted September 14, 2010 by John H. Adams

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Comments (3)

Forty years ago, Congress passed the Clean Air Act of 1970. That same year, with a group of colleagues we founded NRDC, and we spent the next four decades using the Clean Air Act to improve the health of millions...continued

My Take on Oil and Gas Industry's False Claims about Climate

Posted March 11, 2010 by John H. Adams


The oil and gas industry spent a record $168.3 million in lobbying expenses in 2009, and a good deal of it was directed to blocking clean energy and climate legislation. That is a staggering number, but after my 40 years...continued

A New Day for the Catskills

Posted September 17, 2007 by John H. Adams

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Comments (16)

People think of the Catskills and they think of "Dirty Dancing." But really, it's about barns and cows and fishing and hiking. The first fly fishermen fished in the Neversink and the Beaverkill. We have a great river system, trout...continued


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