Tuesday, February 22, 2022

PennFuture President & CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo Announces Retirement; Matthew Stepp Named Interim President

On February 22,
PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo announced her retirement, effective July 2022, after a 37-year career in environmental advocacy. 

The Board of Directors of PennFuture has named Matthew Stepp, Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President, to serve as interim President and CEO until a permanent successor is hired. 

Bonomo, who first came to PennFuture as the organization’s Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer in August 2016, has served as the organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer since October of 2017. 

Bonomo’s work in environmental advocacy started as a volunteer with the Sierra Club, and concludes with her leading a period of sustained growth at one of Pennsylvania’s most influential environmental organizations, PennFuture. 

In between, Bonomo has had a front row seat to some of the most important conservation developments of the last four decades, working at the national level and in 24 states and U.S. territories: 

-- The brokering of the Northwest Forest Plan during the Clinton Administration to save the old-growth forests and wild salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest;

-- The earliest emergence of Chesapeake Bay as an imperiled nationally significant estuary and treasure in need of restoration.  

-- The 1990 reauthorization of the Clean Air Act which curbed sulfur emissions to mitigate acid rain, and marked the beginning of alternative energy fuel standards.

Also known for her abilities to build organizations, under Bonomo’s leadership, this year PennFuture is executing its first-ever $4 million budget, and last year broke $5 million in revenues. 

Since 2017, PennFuture’s staff team grew from 17 to 25, and now includes contractors that augment PennFuture’s capacity in environmental and democracy advocacy. 

Since her promotion into the role of president, PennFuture has raised over $11.5 million in philanthropic funding that enabled the addition of legal, policy, civic engagement and democracy, and field capacity, and expansions into Pennsylvania’s mid-sized towns and communities.

While serving as vice president at Pittsburgh’s Western Pennsylvania Conservancy from 1999 to 2008, Bonomo increased the operating budget for Conservation Programs in eight years from $1 million to $5.7 million annually, and grew program staff from eleven to over 80 in number.

Bonomo’s legacy includes protecting a vast tract of ecologically significant bottomland forest and free-flowing stream from inundation and damming at Nescopeck [Creek] State Park in Luzerne County, and the protection of 17,500 acres of ecologically significant land in western Pennsylvania.  

Despite the enduring and tangible legacy of land and water protection, Bonomo believes the advocacy work she has been able to do over the last five years to be crucial. 

“We are facing unprecedented pressure to expand fracking in Pennsylvania at a time of severe climate emergency. The need for leaders to speak plainly about the wrongs being exacted on the planet and its people has never been more important.  I have been plain spoken about the complicity of elected officials in promoting fracking and petrochemicals as the wrong economic future for our state.  Likewise our organization has made a compelling case for a green economy, which can be the only path forward for Pennsylvanians to prosper and live healthy lives over the long haul.”  

Throughout her career, Bonomo has had a close working relationship with Larry J. Schweiger, nationally renowned climate activist and past president of National Wildlife Federation, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and PennFuture.  

She was hired by Schweiger for her first professional conservation position at National Wildlife Federation. 

Recalling their work together, Bonomo says, “I have so much gratitude for the many opportunities Larry helped make happen for me over the years, the good advice he’s given me, and the friendship that Larry, his spouse Clara and their family have given me.”

While at PennFuture, Bonomo expanded its program honoring the accomplishments and contributions that Pennsylvania women are uniquely making to its environment. 

PennFuture’s annual “Celebrating Women In Conservation Awards” event is in its eighth year and has thus far honored 47 women.  

Bonomo also staffed National Wildlife Federation’s first-ever national committee on the Role of Women in Conservation, and she promoted the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Program to state partner organizations. 

“This retirement is part of a longstanding plan, but in the past few months as this announcement got closer, it’s been joyful for me to reflect and realize how much I lived through, the good work that has been done, the incredible people I’ve met, and places I’ve seen along the way, all in service to my calling to protect the environment.  I was able to reach high and live and work in many places over the years to take advantage of nearly every opportunity I had. This was possible in part because my family, especially my mom and dad, instilled a confidence to live the life I envisioned for myself, and provided a safety net to soften any shortfalls or mistakes I made along the way.  As my parents age, it’s now time for me to rearrange my priorities, and help hold my parents up.  This is also a time for me to explore more deeply other parts of the world that I love, and to discover new places.  Our world is changing so quickly and I have a hunger to see and do more without further delay, if possible.” 

Scott Tobe, the chairman of PennFuture’s Board of Directors, thanked Bonomo for her tireless efforts in guiding PennFuture into a new and exciting era.

“It is indisputable that PennFuture became a stronger, more effective organization under Jacqui’s tenure these last seven years,” Tobe said. “During that time, she always offered steady and confident leadership while guiding PennFuture into new programs and initiatives, never shying away from being the North Star of the organization through thick and thin. All of us at PennFuture owe Jacqui a debt of gratitude for all she’s given to the organization, and we wish her nothing but health, happiness and peace during this well-deserved retirement.”

Bonomo’s influence at PennFuture is felt in myriad ways, and can easily be seen in the organization’s programs and initiatives. 

Chief among them is the “Our Pocono Waters” coalition formed in 2018, which brought together a diverse group of partners to protect Exception Value waters in the Poconos region. 

Under Bonomo’s leadership, PennFuture also executed several versions of its “Toxic Neighbor” campaign that targeted corporate polluters like U.S. Steel and Shell in western Pennsylvania, in an effort to hold those companies accountable for their contributions to the region’s poor air quality. 

Under Bonomo’s leadership, PennFuture has also published a series of highly impactful reports and studies that have informed policies and opinions of lawmakers and other power brokers across Pennsylvania. 

Chief among them are PennFuture’s “A Green Stimulus and Recovery Platform for Pennsylvania” published in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020. 

This ambitious 50-page report contained dozens of policy recommendations and other strategies to help Pennsylvania recover from the pandemic in a clean and equitable way.

 In addition, Bonomo led the charge for several “Common Agenda” reports - one in Philadelphia and one in Erie - that shaped local and regional dialogue on the most important environmental and conservation issues facing those cities, while also offering policy and other solutions for local and state politicians. 

Finally, Bonomo is proud to have started Pennsylvania’s only paid legal internship program for aspiring environmental lawyers. Since the program’s inception in 2020, PennFuture has helped train more than a dozen legal interns who have gone on to pursue exciting careers after leaving the organization. 

Matthew Stepp Named

The Board of Directors of PennFuture has named Matthew Stepp, Chief of Staff and Executive Vice President, to serve as interim President and CEO until a permanent successor is hired. 

Stepp joined PennFuture in March 2015 as Director of Policy and chief lobbyist at PennFuture.

“Jacqui’s legacy will be long and storied, but one of her lasting accomplishments is having built PennFuture into the advocacy powerhouse that it is today,” Stepp said. “Pennsylvania, like much of the world, is in the midst of historic social, political, and economic changes that are putting enormous stresses on our environmental resources and laws. Leading such a strong advocacy organization during this period of upheaval as Interim President & CEO is humbling and an honor. Rest assured that even during this leadership transition, PennFuture will not stop being a watchdog and advocate for Pennsylvania’s communities beset by pollution.”

Before PennFuture, Stepp was the Director of ITIF’s Center for Clean Energy Innovation (CCEI), where he managed and directed high-profile energy and climate policy initiatives at the state, national, and international level. 

He has testified before Congress and he is a nationally recognized expert on the Department of Energy, DOE National Labs, renewable energy technologies, ARPA-E, and U.S. energy technology policy.

Prior to joining ITIF, he was a Christine Mirzayan Fellow at the National Academies of Science where he worked with the Transportation Research Board on energy reduction policy strategies. 

He also served as Fellow at the Breakthrough Institute, where he focused on modernizing U.S. climate policies.

Stepp is a professional member of the American Meteorological Society, has a bachelor's degree in Meteorology from Millersville University as well as a master's degree in Science, Technology, and Public Policy from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“It has been an honor to lead such a talented and passionate team of environmental advocates,and to have shared this work with my colleagues throughout the state” Bonomo said in closing. “While I will miss working with this team, I am also confident that the future of the organization and essential movement is bright and in excellent hands.”

Visit the PennFuture website for more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events.

[Posted: February 22, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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