Federal service calls on SF environment head 

In San Francisco, it’s illegal for supermarkets to stuff groceries into disposable plastic bags. Residents who fail to compost can be fined, and Styrofoam cups and containers are barred at all restaurants.

Now, the longtime legal brain behind The City’s stream of radical environmental policies is calling the shots in California and three other states for President Barack Obama.

And he’s talking tough.

The plastic bag, composting and Styrofoam laws were enacted under the stewardship of environmental lawyer Jared Blumenfeld.

“Mandatory composting was very controversial — but it was worth the controversy,” Blumenfeld told The Examiner while sipping tea in his new South of Market corner office, which features panoramic Bay views and three telephones with varying levels of security encryption.

“We went from 400 tons a day of food scraps being collected at curbsides to 525 tons in two months. That’s a 25 percent increase just by saying to someone, ‘It’s the law.’”

Blumenfeld was raised in England by American parents before moving to Berkeley in 1992 to study law. After graduating, he established a reputation for aggressively pursuing multinational polluters for the Natural Resources Defense Council and International Fund for Animal Welfare nonprofits.

In 2001, Blumenfeld snagged a job running Mayor Willie Brown’s eight-person Department of Environment. Working for Brown and Mayor Gavin Newsom, he doggedly expanded the department’s staff and responsibilities.

Today, the department employs 65 people, and its lofty environmentalist ideals percolate throughout city government, to which the department serves as an adviser.

“We helped build [the department] up by bringing in functions like solid waste and hazardous waste and energy and transportation,” he said. “We wrote most of the laws.”

In his new role, which began in January, Blumenfeld is transforming from a local law writer to a federal law enforcer who has pledged to heavily police industries.

“We’re not going to be wallflowers,” Blumenfeld told reporters during his debut news conference as U.S. EPA Region 9 administrator. “It’s very important to make sure that we’re diligent and judicious when it comes to enforcement actions. When people break the law and we have the scientific proof and the legal basis to take action, we will.”

Ammunition will be provided to help Blumenfeld stay true to his threat: The Obama administration last week proposed a $615-million-a-year EPA enforcement budget.

Blumenfeld sought role in administration

A prolonged courtship began after Jared Blumenfeld told a campaigning U.S. senator that he wanted to work for Barack Obama’s administration if he were elected president.

“There is no application form and there is no place to line up and say, ‘This is the job that I want,’” Blumenfeld said. “But I certainly let it be known that it was something that I was interested in.”

Less than two months after Obama was sworn in as president, Blumenfeld received a call from the Secret Service.

“You don’t really know — is that the last step or the first step?” he said. “They don’t tell you anything.”

It wasn’t until June that Blumenfeld was invited for a job interview with new EPA Director Lisa Jackson.

Five months later, Blumenfeld read in a trade publication that he was a contender for the job.

He finally began a new dream role working for the Obama administration in January.

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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