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This Week's Federal Player: Walter Benjamin Fisherow

This Week's Federal Player: Walter Benjamin Fisherow

Photo Credit: Sam Kittner/

The Parnership for Public Service via The Washington Post

Walter Benjamin Fisherow is a seasoned litigator and environmental warrior whose diplomatic style has brought powerful polluters to the settlement table and helped make our air safer to breathe.

Since joining the Department of Justice (DOJ) in 1987, Fisherow has overseen dozens of government lawyers whose work has helped rid America’s atmosphere of two million tons of toxic pollutants generated by coal-fired power plants each year. His work in enforcing the Clean Air Act has resulted in some of the largest environmental settlements ever.

Meet the Federal Player of the Week, Benjamin Fisherow

Position: Deputy Section Chief, Environmental Enforcement Section, Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division

Age: 62

Residence: Washington, D.C.

Education: BA, Occidental College, 1968; MS, San Francisco State College, 1971; JD, Univ. of California, Hastings College of Law, 1974

Awards: Louis D. Brandeis Award for Excellence in Litigation (Federal Trade Commission, 1980); Awards for Special Achievement (Department of Justice, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2002); Attorney Generals Award for Excellence in Management (DOJ, 2004); John Marshall Award for Support of Litigation (DOJ, 2008); 2009 Service to America Medals Finalist

Hobbies: Cooking, Gardening, Cruising, Watercolors

“These settlements take such a large amount of that bad stuff out of the air that you go to sleep at night truly believing that your job matters. You have an impact on people’s lives,” Fisherow said. “That is very satisfying. To go to bed thinking, ‘wow, I have impacted 300 million people.’”

It was in 1999 that Fisherow first assembled a team of DOJ attorneys that launched a series of actions against utilities whose coal-fired power plants were emitting massive quantities of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. The emissions can cause asthma and other health effects, particularly in children and the elderly, and contribute to acid rain and smog that cloud our skies and damage forests.

His leadership has resulted in 16 settlements with electric utilities, the installation of more than $11 billion worth of air pollution control equipment and a drastic reduction in harmful air pollutants each year. The effort is ongoing.

Fisherow’s crowning achievement was leading the government team that achieved the 2007 settlement with American Electric Power (AEP), a utility that agreed to invest $4.6 billion on cleaner coal-burning technologies, pay a record $15 million fine and spend $60 million to mitigate damage to the environment. The result was the elimination of 813,000 tons of air pollutants each year.

The AEP case remains the largest civil environmental enforcement case ever brought by the federal government, involving dozens of government lawyers, 50,000 lawyer-hours and millions of documents.

Fisherow’s colleagues describe him as a motivational force at the helm of a concerted effort to protect the environment, but also as a commander who wields the awesome power of federal legal forces fairly and inspires his troops with good humor and charm.

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