|Oregon State Bar Bulletin JANUARY 2009|
Jeff Bachman was a burned-out journalist living in Syracuse, N.Y., when two experiences during the late ’80s changed his life. An issue of National Geographic that focused on the global environmental crisis initiated one of them.
"I read the thing cover to cover and it really inspired me to want to be an environmental advocate for a career," says Bachman, an environmental law specialist for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). "I wasn’t really dying to be an attorney, but I wanted to be an environmental advocate and still be able to feed my family. I figured I had a better chance of that as a lawyer rather than working for a nonprofit signing up people on the street."
The Detroit native and his wife, Kathy, moved to Portland so he could attend Lewis & Clark College’s Northwestern School of Law. Already armed with a master’s in environmental policy from State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Bachman, 46, earned his J.D. with a certificate in environmental law in 1995 and went to work for DEQ shortly after.
Bachman’s commitment to environmental quality is one of several attributes Jane Hickman, administrator for DEQ’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement, says she admires.
"Jeff understands the reasons behind all of our laws and he works very hard to enforce them," she says. "He’s very creative in coming up with solutions, and he’s very articulate in explaining things to people so they typically just pay their fine and try to do better."
Bachman says he appreciates the chance to work as an advocate for the state’s environmental quality, though there are plenty of challenges that come along with the job.
"It’s always a question of trying to find the right balance. In enforcement, we seek to deter pollution sources from violating Oregon’s environmental laws, but in hard times, many see environmental regulation as a drag on the economy," Bachman says. "We serve all the people of Oregon, not just those who think of themselves as environmentalists and not just the members of the regulated community. Our task is to craft enforcement actions that promote compliance without creating undue economic hardship.
"As an agency, the challenge is that we have an enormous responsibility and an enormous workload and we just don’t have the resources to do as good a job as we’d like. And with the current economic climate, that doesn’t look like it will change anytime soon," he adds.
One of the benefits of working for a public agency, Bachman says, is a standard 40-hour week. His schedule offers what he calls a nice balance and allows him to pursue other interests, such as helping his wife, Kathy, run her small handmade soap business, brewing his own beer and playing ultimate Frisbee.
The majority of his free time, however, is dedicated to the second life-changer: his involvement in Amnesty International (AI). Kathy signed up for more information about the 48-year-old human rights group after encountering AI at the New York State Fair. AI’s exhibit included a person locked in a cage to illustrate the human rights violations that occur every day in 150 countries around the world. The Bachmans were contacted by a young man who wanted to start an AI chapter in Utica, N.Y. in 1988, and the two have been members ever since.
Over the last two decades, Jeff Bachman’s work for AIUSA has ranged from growing local chapters to fighting human rights violations in East and Southeast Asia, specifically in Indonesia and East Timor. Since 1995, he has been deeply involved in the organization’s International Justice and Accountability Campaign, which works to bring alleged perpetrators of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity to trial before national and international courts, including the International Criminal Court.
Among AI’s current priorities is ending human rights abuses that occur within the context of the U.S.-led War on Terror, he notes.
"AI’s work in the U.S. to end the human rights abuses that have occurred during the War on Terror is huge, not only for victims of the war but also because, as the world’s only superpower, other nations look to the U.S. for leadership," Bachman says. "If the U.S. is going to lock up people without a trial or use torture and ill-treatment, it sort of gives other governments the idea, ‘If the U.S. can do it, why can’t we as well?’ The ramifications of what the U.S. does go far beyond who we may have in detention, but also contributes to other human rights violations around the world."
Last summer, Bachman was elected chair of the board of directors for Amnesty International USA. Mona Cadena, AI’s Western Region Deputy Chair, met Bachman a decade ago when he was a country specialist and she was an unpaid intern. She says the scope of work Bachman has done for AI over the years makes him a stronger leader.
"He’s worked for AI on so many different levels that he really has a broad knowledge of how the organization operates. It’s a very unique perspective, and that across-the-board experience will truly benefit AI," Cadena says.
Bachman says his role as chair, a position that also has been held by Kathy, is a humbling one.
"It’s amazing that people have that much confidence in my ability to lead a $45 million organization with 175 staff and 350,000 members," he says. "Obviously it’s a great honor and a privilege to lead the organization. I’ve seen firsthand that it’s an organization that saves lives by empowering ordinary individuals to do important human rights work."
Still, there is much more to be done, and attorneys have the opportunity to make a huge difference, Bachman says.
"This year is the 60th anniversary of the signing of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [It] was the first step in establishing the international legal framework protecting human rights, but we’re still very far away from a world where every individual has those rights honored and respected," he says. "I think lawyers have a huge role to play in building a world where human rights violations are the exception and not the norm. We have the legal framework – it’s just making the laws we have actually mean something to people."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Melody Finnemore is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.