U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson announced Sept. 1 that President Barack Obama has selected DeKalb County District Attorney Gwen Keyes Fleming for the top position at the EPA’s Region 4. By the end of the day Sept. 2, Keyes Fleming had vacated her Decatur office to prepare to start work Sept. 7 as EPA southeast regional administrator.
One reason for leaving so abruptly, Keyes Fleming explained, was to allow time for a special election so that DeKalb County’s voters could choose her successor in the Nov. 2 election. In the meantime, the departing DA said she has confidence that the office is in good hands. She named Assistant District Attorney Javoyne Hicks White to the position of acting district attorney until the position is filled by the voters.
Keyes Fleming said that she had been approached about the position weeks ago and after reviewing the responsibilities decided she would be a good fit. While district attorney to EPA administrator might seem a big leap, Keyes Fleming said that it really isn’t, noting that both make full use of her legal background. “As district attorney I enforce criminal law; with the EPA I will enforce environmental law,” she said.
Asked what the deciding factor was as she considered the new career path, Keyes Fleming answered, “I don’t want to seem cavalier about it, but the president asked me.” She added that her views of environment protection law are in line with Obama’s and Jackson’s.
According to the EPA Web site, regional administrators “are tasked with ensuring EPA’s efforts to address the environmental crises of today are rooted in three fundamental values: science-based policies and programs, adherence to the rule of law, and transparency.”
Jackson stated in a news release, “I look forward to working closely with Gwen Keyes Fleming on the many urgent environmental issues we face throughout the country, and especially along Region 4’s Gulf Coast. Gwen is coming on at an exceptionally challenging time. I’m thrilled to have Gwen as part of our leadership team at EPA. She will certainly play an instrumental role in protecting the health and environment of all those living in the region.”
Regional administrators are responsible for managing the agency’s regional activities under the direction of the EPA administrator. They promote state and local environmental protection efforts and serve as a liaison to state and local government officials. Region 4 encompasses Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and six tribal nations.
Keyes Fleming, who was elected DeKalb County district attorney in 2004 and again in 2008, served as solicitor-general for the county prior to taking office as district attorney. She was both the first woman and the first African American to serve as DeKalb County district attorney.
She said that she would like her years as district attorney to be best remembered for pretrial programs that she initiated. “Finding alternatives to jail for first-time offenders—especially juveniles—not only saves the county money, it gives us an opportunity to redirect lives away from a criminal path,” she said.
She also created programs designed to look out for crime victims—especially the most defenseless among them—including ones that target elder abuse and domestic violence.