Stories in Washington

Jennifer Lee Clinchy: Fostering Collaborative Efforts for Ocean Conservation as a Dedicated Public Servant

By Anya Blaney

Candid portrait of Jennifer Lee Clinchy.
Jennifer Lee Clinchy Jennifer's passion for environmental conservation and community service makes her a key contributor to The Nature Conservancy's board of directors. © Jennifer Lee Clinchy

Jennifer brings her deep professional knowledge of U.S. law to The Nature Conservancy in Washington, and her love of discovery drives her to advocate for the natural world. A daughter of ​immigrants, Jennifer was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest and obtained her international studies and neurobiology undergraduate degrees from the University of Washington. However, she realized that research science was not her path because "the time horizon when my work would help humanity was too far into the future, and I wanted a more immediate, tangible impact on the world."​

Changing course, Jennifer did like “many people who don’t know what to do with their lives and went to law school.” She received a Juris Doctorate and Master of Public Policy at Georgetown University, propelling her into the realm of public service. In 2008, she emerged as a legal and policy advisor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Her commitment to the public sector led her to assume the role of special advisor to the chief privacy officer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Jennifer Lee Clinchy stands outside the White House and eats cotton candy.
White House Staff During Jennifer’s tenure at the White House, she played a pivotal role in shaping international ocean policies. © Jennifer Lee Clinchy

However, Jennifer’s most transformational chapter unfolded during her tenure at the White House, where she played a pivotal role in shaping international ocean policies. As deputy general counsel and senior policy advisor for oceans and the environment, she worked with the president’s science advisor and the U.S. chief technology officer. Notably, Jennifer co-chaired the National Science and Technology Council's Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology, orchestrating federal interagency collaborations. One of her favorite contributions resulted in the establishment of the National Ocean Council, which unites stakeholders ranging from fisheries to regulators, fostering a holistic approach to managing regional resources. She also helped pave the way for aspiring students to pursue exciting scientific careers through the White House Science Fair. Reflecting on her achievements, Jennifer emphasized the power of bringing all voices to the table, ensuring that policies echo the collective aspirations of the environmental landscape.

In establishing the Ocean Council, we brought together stakeholders from various sides of environmental issues to create a body that looked at how all these voices influence policy,” she said. “If you can get everyone around the table, you're much more likely to end up with a solution that will work.”

Joining The Nature Conservancy’s board of trustees furthers Jennifer’s goal of facilitating conversations across the aisle. She had served as a legal architect for public-private partnerships with the organization during her time at the White House.

“The Nature Conservancy comes to the table with less judgment than some other environmental organizations,” Jennifer said. “What really struck me about TNC is their willingness to sit down and talk with anyone, rather than judging others first. That approach fosters creative partnerships with influencers who can have a real impact on the environment.”

After leaving the White House in 2017, Jennifer continued to apply her expertise in environmental law and policy to her work as the director of policy and planning for the Puget Sound Partnership, a region where she successfully increased federal funding for the salmon recovery effort. In Jennifer's current role at NOAA, she advocates for the environment through federal protection of endangered species and environmental recovery. Another aspect of her work with NOAA is​​ to stop illegal fishing. True to her commitment to working at the top levels of government, in 2022, she returned to serve the White House as senior legal counsel for the Office of Science and Technology Policy for the Biden administration, advising on legal matters related to climate change and clean energy.

Jennifer Lee Clinchy wears an orange jumpsuit and stands in a small boat on a body of water.
Environmentalist Jennifer stands in a small boat, prepared for a day in the field. © Jennifer Lee Clinchy

Jennifer has shown a history of commitment to community service and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts outside of her public sector work. In 2019, she and her husband co-founded the Collins Coalition (CoCo). This national Scrabble association promotes an inclusive, growth-oriented community for all players of the game. Core to CoCo's mission is to provide a safe, harassment-free environment that supports underrepresented groups in Scrabble and to be tough on those who bully, intimidate or harass other players.

Jennifer's passion for environmental conservation and community service makes her a key contributor to The Nature Conservancy's board of directors. Her commitment to positively impacting the world is further demonstrated by her environmental law and policy expertise, nonprofit executive experience, writing skills and career consulting.

In the future, Jennifer plans to help The Nature Conservancy in Washington with the expertise and bravery needed to push the chapter to take risks.

"It's so much easier in times of uncertainty and turbulence to shrink back than to lean in," Jennifer said. "There is no turning back the clock on today's environmental challenges. I have a sense of purpose.​”

Anya Blaney is a partner at Blaney Consulting.