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photograph by Sarita Relis (

Paul Relis was raised in Long Beach, California. While studying at the University of California, Santa Barbara, a massive oil spill erupted off the coast of Santa Barbara on January 28, 1969, that devastated the coastline, killed much aquatic life, and severely damaged the local economy. The oil spill was a transformative event in the history of the U.S that influenced the establishment of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Earth Day and other landmark environmental programs.

The oil spill was a life changing event for Paul. He became the first executive director of a newly formed nonprofit, the Community Environmental Council CEC) at age 23. The CEC played a critical role in staving off several  proposed developments  that would have changed Santa Barbara forever. And, under his leadership, the CEC built visionary projects including recycling facilities, urban gardens and an urban farm, green buildings and other programs that, decades ago, presaged the core elements of sustainability today.

After twenty years of locally based work Paul took an executive position  with the California Environmental Protection Agency where he helped lead the state of California’s nation leading recycling programs that have forged a multi-billion recycling industry and institutionalized recycling that touches most of California’s 38 million people.

After his government service Paul became an executive in a private company where he led efforts to deploy technology to convert municipal organic waste to renewable natural gas, a zero carbon fuel suitable for running heavy duty trucks and buses. Today the company is building one of the largest plants in North America to provide fuel for up to 400 heavy duty vehicles. This project will serve as a template for an emerging bioenergy industry that will reduce dependence on greenhouse gas producing fossil fuels and greatly reduce our reliance on methane generating landfills.

From 1996-2013 Paul taught in the Environmental Studies Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara.  He is a board member emeritus of the Community Environmental Council and sits on the boards of the American Biogas Council and the Bioenergy Association of California.

He resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his partner, the novelist, Fanny Pearce.

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