Longtime deputy director to take the helm

Rick Middleton, who founded the Southern Environmental Law Center 33 years ago and built it into a powerhouse of environmental and legal protections for the Southeast, announced today he will retire at the end of March 2019. He will pass the reins to SELC’s longtime deputy director and director of regional programs, Jeff Gleason.

From a two-office suite on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall in 1986, Middleton has grown SELC into the largest environmental advocacy organization in the region, with nine offices in six states employing 80 attorneys and a total staff of 140 employees.

Under Middleton’s leadership, SELC has established a reputation of regional, national, and even global impact. SELC has prevailed in the U.S. Supreme Court, protected millions of acres of southern landscapes from the mountains to the coast, spearheaded efforts to move the South from dirty fossil fuels toward a future focused on clean energy, and forced southern utilities to remove more than 90 million tons of buried coal ash that has polluted lakes and rivers.

In addition to numerous victories for the environment, Middleton’s sound fiscal planning and management is reflected in SELC’s 100 percent rating from Charity Navigator, the premier watchdog site that tracks how effectively donated dollars are spent.

Middleton is widely respected as one of the country’s pioneers of environmental law. After graduating from the University of Virginia and receiving a law degree from Yale Law School, Middleton returned to his home state of Alabama to join the Attorney General’s office to enforce the country’s new Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. After several years in Washington, D.C., he later returned to Virginia to launch SELC, which has been home to some of the best environmental lawyers in the country.

A Charlottesville native with an undergraduate degree from Union College and a law degree from UVA, Jeff Gleason joined SELC in 1991 to start and lead SELC’s Clean Air and Energy Program. His accomplishments include playing a key role in one of the organization’s most prominent victories, a 2007 unanimous Supreme Court decision that stopped power companies from extending the lives of obsolete coal-burning power plants without installing modern pollution controls.  Since that time, carbon dioxide emissions in the Southeast have dropped nearly 30 percent.

After assuming the position of Deputy Director in 1997, Gleason provided oversight and coordination for the region’s programmatic work and was the day-to-day architect of SELC’s impressive track record. Gleason, who will come out of a short retirement to assume the leadership role, will return to SELC full-time in January before Middleton’s retirement in Spring of 2019.