Executive Director Transition

Columbia Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors unanimously named Lauren Goldberg the organization’s new Executive Director starting August 1.

Executive Director transition

Brett VandenHeuvel

I don’t want to write a sappy goodbye message. And this isn’t really goodbye… 

But I am moving on from my position as Executive Director of Columbia Riverkeeper (Riverkeeper) on August 1. It’s been an incredible privilege to work here for the last 15 years, 13 as director. The best part has been all of you—wonderful friends who care deeply and take action to make the world a better place. 

I’m not going far. Our family will remain in Hood River and I will join the Riverkeeper board to help any way I can. I will continue to show my kids the fights that we’ve won together in Astoria, Longview, Kalama, Vancouver, Portland, the Gorge, Boardman, Morrow County, Hermiston, Hanford, and beyond. 

I’m starting a new chapter in my life: a consulting practice working for non-profits, Tribes, and foundations. I will continue to fight for clean water and our climate.  

The exciting news is that our Board of Directors and staff unanimously chose Lauren Goldberg as the new Executive Director. Lauren has led Riverkeeper’s legal and policy work for the last decade and has been the architect of major victories. She is a superstar in this movement: brilliant, strategic, and principled. 

I have literally hundreds of people to thank—way beyond the scope of this message—for giving me the opportunity to do this work that I love, for being there in times of joy and times of sadness, for trusting my wild ideas or pushing me to make them wilder, and for showing me how hard you will fight to protect the places you love.

I do want to name and thank each of my current Riverkeeper coworkers for being such shining lights: Simone Anter, Acasia Berry, Lorri Epstein, Lauren Goldberg, Ubaldo Hernández​, Miles Johnson, Emily Kao, Ana Molina, Lisa Muñoz, Kate Murphy, Siobhán O’Halloran, Dianne Riley, Dan Serres, Alex Smith, and Liz Terhaar, as well as colleagues at our partner group Comunidades, Juan Monje and Ingrid Fuentes Espinoza.  

Riverkeeper has never been stronger.

Thanks to our amazing members, our finances are solid, our staff is diverse and experienced, and we continue to pile up victories. Riverkeeper is poised to tackle the urgent work ahead. Which makes me very proud. 

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Columbia Riverkeeper Appoints Lauren Goldberg as Executive Director

Brett, Lauren
Brett VandenHeuvel; and Lauren Goldberg.

Hood River and Portland, Ore. (May 4, 2022)—Columbia Riverkeeper’s Board of Directors unanimously named Lauren Goldberg the organization’s new Executive Director starting August 1. Over the last two decades, the $3.5M organization has grown ten-fold while defeating over a dozen new fossil fuel terminals, reducing toxic pollution, and protecting salmon. 

“Columbia Riverkeeper has never been stronger—and the stakes have never been higher. I’m honored to continue the fight for clean water and our climate,” stated Goldberg. 

Brett VandenHeuvel, who has led the organization since 2009, will step down on August 1 to start a national consulting practice focused on climate and clean water strategies. He will join Columbia Riverkeeper’s board of directors.

“It has been a privilege to work shoulder to shoulder with amazing coworkers and partners,” stated VandenHeuvel. “I know that Riverkeeper’s future is bright with Lauren at the helm.”  

“Under Brett’s leadership, Columbia Riverkeeper has been an important voice in advancing environmental protections in Washington,” said Laura Watson, director of the Washington State Department of Ecology. “I know that Lauren Goldberg will carry on that legacy as we continue the critical work to protect and restore the Columbia.”

Goldberg joined Columbia Riverkeeper in 2006 as a law clerk, became a staff attorney in 2008, and served as the legal and program director since 2016. She graduated cum laude from Lewis and Clark Law School with a certificate in Environmental Law. As Executive Director, Goldberg will oversee all aspects of the organization’s legal and policy work, operations, and development.

Goldberg has earned the respect of environmental leaders. 

“Lauren Goldberg has worked in solidarity with Yakama Nation for over a decade. She’s been there to help fight against coal and oil trains, clean up toxic pollution, and protect sacred sites. Lauren will be a great leader for Columbia Riverkeeper,” said Davis Washines, Government Relations Liaison for Yakama Nation Fisheries.

“Lauren has built strong relationships throughout our region. Ten years ago, she supported the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in pushing Oregon to pass the nation’s strongest limits on toxic pollution. Ever since she has been a trusted ally for protecting clean water, cleaning up nuclear waste, and restoring salmon runs,“ said Don Sampson, Executive Director, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. 

“While Brett is a hard act to follow, Lauren Goldberg is an excellent choice to lead Columbia Riverkeeper,” stated Melissa Powers, Professor, Lewis and Clark Law School. “Lauren is a natural leader and one of the most strategic legal thinkers I know. We are all lucky that Columbia Riverkeeper is going to be in such capable and skilled hands.”

“Columbia Riverkeeper is one of the most effective groups in the nation, and I am delighted that Lauren will lead the amazing Riverkeeper team,” said Kristen Boyles, Managing Attorney, Earthjustice Northwest Office. “I’ve seen Lauren’s innovative strategy and thoughtful engagement with communities earn admiration and respect throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

“Lauren Goldberg is an established and trusted leader working to create a more just system for ecosystems, and the people who rely on them throughout the Columbia River Basin,” said Se-ah-dom Edmo, Executive Director, Seeding Justice.

“The Board of Directors unanimously voted to make Lauren Goldberg our new Executive Director. I am excited to work with Lauren, she brings a brilliant legal mind, an incredible track record of success, and a passion and dedication for environmental justice. I am confident that under Lauren’s leadership and our talented staff Columbia Riverkeeper will continue to successfully protect, restore, and care for our Columbia River,” said Rudy Salakory, President, Board of Directors, Columbia Riverkeeper.

Goldberg lives in the Columbia River Gorge where she enjoys spending time outside with her young daughters and husband. She has been a volunteer at Gorge Youth Mentors (formerly Big Brothers Big Sisters) since 2009.

About Columbia Riverkeeper

Columbia Riverkeeper uses legal advocacy and community organizing to stop pollution, fight fossil fuels, save salmon, engage communities, and clean up the Hanford Nuclear Site. The non-profit organization has offices in Hood River and Portland, Oregon, and works throughout the Columbia River Basin.  

About Columbia Riverkeeper

Columbia Riverkeeper uses legal advocacy and community organizing to stop pollution, fight fossil fuels, save salmon, engage communities, and clean up the Hanford Nuclear Site. The non-profit organization has offices in Hood River and Portland, Oregon, and works throughout the Columbia River Basin.  

Lauren Goldberg
Lauren Goldberg
Environmental watchdog Columbia Riverkeeper has built a reputation for taking on big polluters—and winning. Now a new executive director plans to continue racking up victories for clean water, clean air and environmental justice.

When Lauren Goldberg was 8 years old, she penned the essay “Bag in the Water,” lamenting the trash she found in a river near her childhood home. The cheeky third grader was just getting warmed up. As a young teen, she was already writing letters, knocking on doors and speaking before government officials on behalf of her school’s environmental club and Amnesty International chapter. In high school, Goldberg and a classmate convinced school purchasing authorities to specify recycled paper and organized an online drive for other schools to do the same—an initiative that earned her an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and an invitation to the White House.

In August, Goldberg will apply her talents as the new executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, the Hood River, Oregon-based nonprofit known for achieving David-vs.-Goliath success over multi-billion-dollar fossil-fuel interests. In pursuit of its mission—to protect and restore the water quality of the Columbia River and all life connected to it—Riverkeeper has racked up significant, and some would say unexpected, victories. In the last decade, it has defeated every new fossil-fuel project on the Columbia River, halting what would have been the world’s largest fracked-gas-to-methanol refinery at the Port of Kalama, the nation’s largest coal export terminal in Longview, the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, and the onslaught of rail traffic up and down the Columbia that would have accompanied them.

Goldberg led in many of those challenges as a Riverkeeper staff attorney and then as its legal and program director. In fact, she’s been part of the organization since 2006, when she first volunteered as a law clerk while earning her law degree at Lewis & Clark College in Portland.

“It was a treasure to have found Riverkeeper so early in my career,” says Goldberg. “I knew I wanted to work with a place-based group. I wanted to understand the Columbia, get to know its people and fight for its protection. It’s incredibly gratifying to make a difference in the place where you’re raising your kids and have built relationships with your neighboring communities and Tribal Nations.”

Change through local communities and the courtroom 

Goldberg takes over the executive director position from Brett VandenHeuvel, who has led the organization since 2009. VandenHeuvel intends to continue working on climate and clean waters strategies with his own national consulting practice, and will remain with Columbia Riverkeeper as a member of its board of directors. 

Red-shirted oil terminal opponents packed Gaiser Hall in October 2013. Join us in the same room on April 5, 2018 to celebrate grassroots victories over massive oil and coal projects.
Red-shirted oil terminal opponents packed Gaiser Hall in October 2013.

“I’m so proud of what this organization has been able to accomplish,” VandenHeuvel says. “For too long, big polluters were flying under the radar and using political connections to shut out the public. As small and scrappy as we are, Riverkeeper has changed the system in our region—we know how to use legal tools to level the playing field, and we know how to tap into the power of the people trying to protect places they love.” 

Riverkeeper has grown along with those successes, now fortified with a $3.5-million budget and a staff of 20. VandenHeuvel fully expects the victories to continue under Goldberg’s leadership. “It’s hard to imagine a better person to lead this organization than Lauren,” VandenHeuvel remarks. “She’s a strategically brilliant lawyer and has designed some of our most successful campaigns over the years.” 

A major 2022 win for clean water 
bradford island, photo by ubaldo hernandez
Bradford Island.

One big victory came earlier this year at Bradford Island, on the Columbia River near Cascade Locks, Oregon. Beginning with the construction of the Bonneville Dam in the 1930s well into the 1970s, the island and surrounding waters were used as a dumping site for toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Working closely with the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, Goldberg and team lifted up the voices of Tribal members, neighboring communities, fishers and other river users. For three years, relentless political pressure from the ground up accomplished what no one had been able to do for decades: In March, EPA listed Bradford Island and surrounding waters as a Superfund site, giving it priority for funding and cleanup. 

“Columbia Riverkeeper was instrumental in ensuring community members’ voices were heard by the EPA and worked to get Congressional support for the listing,” says Rose Longoria, regional Superfund manager for Yakama Nation Fisheries. “Riverkeeper is a valued partner to the Yakama Nation in our efforts to honor, protect and restore the Columbia River.”

“Columbia Riverkeeper has built strong relationships throughout our region,” adds Don Sampson, executive director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation based in Pendleton. “Ten years ago, Lauren supported the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in pushing Oregon to pass the nation’s strongest limits on toxic pollution. Ever since she has been a trusted ally for protecting clean water, cleaning up nuclear waste and restoring salmon runs.“ 

An upbringing of activism

The perils of toxic pollution have driven Goldberg for much of her life. Rattled by a cancer diagnosis in her family as a child, Goldberg began digging into the connections between cancer and toxics in consumer products and the environment. In college, she spent two summers volunteering at a camp for children with cancer. “While I wasn’t called to the medical field, I saw a path to make a difference through environmental activism,” she says. 

That path was a legal one—figuring out how to beat polluters in the courtroom. Some of her first accomplishments at Riverkeeper were strengthening laws to restrict toxic pollution and enforce the Clean Water Act. “We use the law to stop corporations from dumping dangerous chemicals into the Columbia River. What an amazing job.” 

Her upbringing in a tight-knit Jewish family also instilled in her the confidence to stand up to power and authority. The stories of her great grandparents who emigrated from Poland and Russia resonated deeply. “The freedoms we have in America were never taken for granted by my family,” she explains. “I was taught that questioning, standing up for values, engaging and participating is the work we all have to do to keep our democracy alive.” 

What lies ahead

There’s no shortage of work on the Columbia Riverkeeper docket and, in keeping with its resolute style, some sizable targets top the list: Defeat every fossil-fuel infrastructure project on the Columbia River. Remove dams on the Lower Snake River to prevent salmon and orca extinction. Stop a pumped-storage hydroelectric project on sacred Tribal land near the John Day Dam, as well as an 800-acre expansion at Port of Westward in the Columbia River estuary.

The organization will continue to work in close partnership with Tribal Nations on its many campaigns and continue to amplify Latinx voices across in Columbia River Gorge communities through Comunidades, an independent organization for environmental and social justice fiscally sponsored by Riverkeeper. 

Executive Director VandenHeuvel emphasizes that Goldberg will lead Riverkeeper’s efforts with the full support of its staff and board, which unanimously selected her as its next executive director. “It says a lot about Riverkeeper that we recognize the people who have put their blood, sweat and tears into this organization to make it what it is,” he says. “They should be and will be the ones to carry it forward.” 

Celebrate Brett’s career at Columbia Riverkeeper and welcome Lauren Goldberg as our new Executive Director by supporting the future of Columbia Riverkeeper.