Jane Preyer

Southeast Regional Director

Environmental Defense Fund


Jane Preyer grew up in the outdoors of North Carolina, hiking, fishing, and spending time with her family. Years later, when she began to work on air quality issues for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), she was devastated to learn that her native state was one of four regions with the dirtiest air in the country. Her passion for the environment helped fuel a campaign that resulted in passage of the 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act. The legislation requires power companies to reduce harmful emissions and provided a model for other states in controlling air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

But passion is not enough on its own to effect that kind of change. Jane says the MPA program "really sharpened my analysis skills. We learned to get beyond rhetoric and try to understand the causes and tradeoffs of different approaches, to build a substantive case, and ask hard questions." Those skills were useful in Jane's first-year MPA internship with EDF. What started as a summer project became not just a full-time job after graduation, but grew into the Paper Task Force, a nationwide initiative that partnered the EDF with private industry to reduce the use of paper and switch to environmentally friendly paper.

Jane was a Duke University tennis coach and an accomplished professional tennis player ranked 43rd in the world when she decided to switch to a career in public service. In some ways, she was starting over, and felt that she could use some assistance in making the transition. "In the MPA program, I came to see that coaching a team was not just being engaged in a sport, but involved management skills. The program gave me a new frame of reference," she says, "and taught me to be not just a good leader, but a good follower. Working in teams in the program, I learned that no one group can solve big problems in isolation. You have to build bridges with other organizations—maximize your strength and their strength. You have to be creative in finding solutions."

As an environmental advocate, Jane is always looking for solutions. "We are facing the biggest challenges of our generation," she says. "Climate change is going to fundamentally alter our economy and this planet if we don't start addressing the issue. When my nieces and nephews are my age, will they see that we stepped up to the plate?"

She approaches the issue with the kind of strategic questioning learned at the MPA program: How will we meet the demand for electricity as the population of North Carolina explodes? What's the fastest and cheapest way we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions? What are the policies that will promote efficiency standards for new building? What are the incentives to move these issues forward?

Jane's take on leading her organization utilizes the same investment in the present in order to build results for the future. "I care a lot about having a culture where people are excited about being here every day, who are motivated, and who enjoy the people they work with." Jane says she spends a lot of time thinking and planning strategically with her staff and with other groups, looking for leverage points that can make a difference on a given issue. "Ultimately, it's about making progress," she says.