A Profile of Alan Muller of Port Penn: An Environmental Activist and Executive Director of Green Delaware
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Much of Green Delaware’s support comes from an annual $10,000-$15,000 grant from the New Jersey Environmental Federation and Environmental Endowment for New Jersey. The grant recognizes Green Delaware’s work to limit water pollution, particularly in the Delaware River. Jane Nogaki, founding chair of the endowment, says Muller “is at the top of Delaware environmental groups. He can be confrontational without being belligerent, his arguments are well-grounded, and he asks questions rather than making accusations.”
Muller clearly has scored victories—a ban on industrial incinerators probably is his most significant—but most observers agree he could have accomplished much more with a less rigid approach. “Alan rarely declares victory,” says Flaherty. “What I would consider victories in a lot of cases he considers defeats.”
Bill Zak, of Citizens for Clean Power in Sussex County, understands Muller’s attitude. “He knows that conciliation often means things getting dropped in a drawer and forgotten.”
Flaherty and Nancy Willing, author of the liberal “Delaware Way” blog, exemplify another Muller trait: burning bridges.
Flaherty calls Muller “an incredibly bright man who has made environmentalism mainstream in Delaware,” then adds, “Alan has not spoken to me since January of 2006.” According to Muller, “John stabbed me in the back” during his campaign against incinerators.
Willing, also a Muller fan, says he cut her off when he perceived that she sided with the authorities in his dispute over upgrades to his Port Penn home.
Due in part to this penchant for severing ties and his prickly style, Muller has no prospective successor as director of Green Delaware. Kreshtool, Keller and Berryhill are all 80-plus, other allies have died, and younger people haven’t stepped forward.
“In my arrogance,” says Muller, “I thought if we set an example of being smarter, of having more principled behavior than other enviros, it would rub off. Ain’t happening. Maybe it’s my lack of leadership ability.”
If he leaves, Muller and others agree that Green Delaware will probably die, an event that has his foes rubbing their hands in anticipation. For others, like Jane Nogaki, it will be a great loss.
“Today, environmental groups are using social media to spread their message,” she says, “but there’s no substitute for local, grass-roots action. And that’s what Alan always did, standing up against the giants of industry and holding politicians accountable.”