The former head of Michigan’s environmental department was named the University of Michigan’s first director of sustainable climate action engagement, the university announced Tuesday.
Liesl Eichler Clark will connect UM’s sustainability researchers with external partners to accelerate climate action in Michigan and beyond, according to the university.
Those partnerships will make give higher education more impact and allow the UM to help tackle the climate crisis, said Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist and the Samuel A. Graham dean at the university’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
“It’s time for universities to build out beyond their own carbon neutrality goals, which are critically important, and look at the broader landscape of how we can make a lasting difference in the state of Michigan,” Overpeck said in a staement. “Clark will play an instrumental role in developing the new initiative from the ground up, putting environmental justice and equity at the core.”
Clark served as the director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy for four years under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She left in December before the start of Whitmer’s second term. Whitmer did not publicly explain the reasons behind Clark’s departure.
Aaron Keatley now serves as EGLE’s acting director.
During her tenure, Clark helped EGLE navigate record-high Great Lakes water levels, establishing the state’s first PFAS drinking water standards, supporting Flint and Benton Harbor as the cities grappled with lead in their drinking water and helped create the state’s climate action plan and environmental justice advisory council.
In Benton Harbor, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in September 2021 received a scathing emergency petition from environmental groups and others criticizing the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy and the city of Benton Harbor for failing to provide residents with safe drinking water after three straight years of lead standard exceedances. Under Clark, EGLE officials agreed then to distribute bottled water and better educate residents about how to use water filters.
“I’m always ready and willing to take on the most complex and consequential policy issues,” Clark said. “I have focused on both energy and clean water with a priority on supporting solutions that lift, involve, and benefit all people. The University of Michigan is poised to accelerate its leadership in sustainable climate action, and I’m thrilled to lend my skills to the task.”
UM has a series of climate goals for the coming years, including:
- Reducing emissions from purchased power to net zero carbon emissions by 2025.
- Eliminating direct, on-campus greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
- Discontinuing investments in companies with large greenhouse gas emissions and stopping new investments in funds that focus on oil or coal.
- Developing a net-zero endowment by 2050.