Catherine McCabe’s desire to protect the environment is rooted in childhood summers spent in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, swimming, hiking and drinking from mountain streams. The opportunity to drink the clear water – and, in later years, to sadly discover it was no longer safe – would propel her to a career in protecting the environment, integrating environmental science and the law.
Now a recognized leader in environmental protection, the DEP Commissioner leads a skilled team of environmental professionals to safeguard New Jersey’s natural and historic resources, and to protect public health from the effects of environmental pollution. She is committed to fulfilling Governor Murphy’s environmental goals, including the climate change goals of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050 and preparing New Jersey residents to adapt to climate change.
One of Commissioner McCabe’s first DEP initiatives was to establish a set of principles and priorities to guide the department’s efforts. Her principles are simple: follow the law, use the best available science, listen to all sides, find the best balance, and be transparent and honest with the public. Under Commissioner McCabe, the DEP’s top priorities are reducing and responding to climate change, protecting New Jersey’s water, revitalizing communities and protecting public health, managing and promoting New Jersey’s thriving natural resources, and strengthening the DEP workforce.
To reduce New Jersey’s emissions of greenhouse gases and achieve the Governor’s clean energy goals, one of Commissioner McCabe’s first actions was to lead the DEP to rejoin the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade system to reduce GHG emissions from the electric power generation sector. Commissioner McCabe and the DEP also work closely with the Board of Public Utilities and other agencies to promote the development of offshore wind energy, while protecting marine resources and fisheries. DEP is also working to reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector, by promoting and providing funding for electric vehicles and charging stations, as well as collaborating with other Northeast states to design a potential market-based system to reduce GHG emissions from vehicles.
To increase New Jersey’s resilience and adaptation to the already-apparent effects of climate change, Commissioner McCabe established the Office of Climate and Flood Resilience in the DEP and spearheaded the development of Governor Murphy’s Climate Resilience Executive Order 89, which established a statewide Chief Resilience Officer in the DEP and an Interagency Council on Climate Resilience. Under Commissioner McCabe’s leadership, DEP issued a Sea Level Rise Report for the state and is developing a Coastal Resilience Plan, as well as leading the Interagency Council’s work to develop a statewide Climate Resilience Strategy.
To protect New Jersey’s valuable water resources, in 2018, Commissioner McCabe revoked the prior Administration’s rollback of septic density rules in the Highlands region, protecting the quality of drinking water that serves more than half of New Jersey’s families. To protect public health, Commissioner McCabe has actively worked to protect drinking water supplies from contamination with lead and PFAS (“forever chemicals”). Under her leadership, DEP has used both funding and enforcement tools to address lead contamination and issued the first PFAS drinking water limits in the country.
The DEP has cleaned up many contaminated sites and invested in brownfields redevelopment to revitalize New Jersey’s communities during Commissioner McCabe’s tenure. She partnered with the state’s Economic Development Authority to greatly expand the DEP’s successful Community Collaborative Initiative, which provides close support to communities working on revitalization efforts around the state. Commissioner McCabe prioritized public health and environmental justice by targeting compliance and enforcement efforts on air pollution in overburdened communities; revitalized the DEP’s Environmental Justice Council; and spearheaded Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 23 requiring state agencies to work together to promote environmental justice in the state.
Partnering with Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, Commissioner McCabe has filed multiple lawsuits to recover damages to natural resources caused by polluters. These funds are dedicated to restoring and preserving precious natural resources around the state. DEP also invests substantial Green Acres funding to acquire and preserve natural and historic tracts of land for the benefit and enjoyment of New Jersey residents. Commissioner McCabe was pleased to see an approximate 20-year land preservation effort come to fruition when the DEP recently entered into a purchase agreement with Atlantic City Electric to buy a 1,400-acre property in Cumberland County – one of the most significant land acquisitions in DEP history.
Harking back to her childhood roots, Commissioner McCabe takes particular pleasure in overseeing the management of the state’s parks, forests, fish and wildlife, and marine resources. She has an avid interest in promoting urban parks and trees, and recently announced the gift of seedlings from the famed Salem Oak for every New Jersey municipality – in celebration of the 50th birthday of the DEP and the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
Commissioner McCabe has guided the DEP since the Murphy Administration took office in early 2018. Previously, she had a long career as an environmental lawyer and manager with the federal government, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice. She served at EPA from 2005 to 2017 as the Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (2005-2011); as a judge on EPA’s Environmental Appeals Board (2011-2014); and as Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA’s Region 2 office in New York City (2014-2018). In 2017, she served as the Acting Administrator of EPA (January and February) and as Acting Regional Administrator of EPA Region 2.
Before joining EPA, Commissioner McCabe was a trial attorney and manager at the U.S. Department of Justice from 1983 to 2005, in the Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. Her various positions there included Deputy Chief and Assistant Chief of the Environmental Enforcement Section; Assistant Chief in the Natural Resources Section; and Senior Counsel in the Policy, Legislation and Special Litigation Section.
Prior to federal service, Commissioner McCabe served as an Assistant Attorney General in the New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau. Previously, she was associated with the law firm of Webster and Sheffield in New York City.
The Commissioner earned a law degree from Columbia Law School and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from Barnard College. She also studied environmental science at the graduate level in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.Catherine R. McCabe, Commissioner