Great Lakes watchers anxious to fill EPA post that’s key to restoration initiative

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By Allison Bush, bushalli@msu.edu
Great Lakes Echo
Aug. 14, 2009

Great Lakes officials are anxious for the Obama Administration to appoint the region’s top Environmental Protection Agency administrator.

“The appointment is always important, but for (the Great Lakes states), right now it’s absolutely critical,” said Andy Buchsbaum, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes region. “For the first time in history, we could get millions and millions of dollars from Congress, and the administrator is important to making sure the money is spent well.”

The Chicago-based Region 5 administrator is responsible for the Great Lakes program under the Clean Water Act. Region 5 includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Potential candidates

Doug Scott, director of Illinois' EPA

Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

Regional administrators link the federal Environmental Protection Agency with state and local governments. And because the Great Lakes could receive $475 million from Congress for restoring and protecting the Great Lakes, having a strong link now is crucial, Buchsbaum said.

Gary Gulezian, director of the Great Lakes National Program Office, is the point person for the operations and decisions with respect to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. And Cam Davis, special adviser to the EPA on Great Lakes issues, is working with him to decide where the money will go.

But the regional administrator will be their supervisor, and they will work together to make the final decisions, said Tim Eder, director of the Great Lakes Commission, an interstate agency that promotes giving the Great Lakes a unified voice.

Todd Ambs, administrator of Wisconsin's DNR's water division

Todd Ambs, administrator of Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resource's water division

Funding decisions will be made rapidly regardless if the position is filled quickly, Buchsbaum said. But a strong leadership will help ensure the money will be spent in the most effective ways.

So far, President Barack Obama has not made any of the 10 pending regional appointments. There aren’t any requirements for the timeline, but it could happen soon, Buchsbaum  said.

“It’s just a matter of when the administration gets around to making these appointments, but this is about the time you typically start hearing announcements about administrators being proposed,” he said.

Greenwire, an energy and environmental policy publication, recently listed possible regional administrator candidates including three for Region 5 :
–    Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
–    Steve Chester, director of Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality
–    Todd Ambs, administrator of Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources’ water division

Steve Chester, director of Michigan's DEQ

Steve Chester, director of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality

“All of those people, because of their backgrounds, would be well qualified,” Eder said. “They’re all with major state agencies, and would provide valuable experience.”

There is a strong precedence for appointing administrators who are part of federal or state agencies, Buchsbaum said.

Eder stressed that the main thing is to have a candidate who is very familiar with the Great Lakes.

“Now, especially, it would be really beneficial to have someone with a knowledge and understanding of the issues facing the lakes, because that person is very important to what happens in the Great Lakes,” he said.

Ambs has strong Great Lakes connections. He is a member of the Great Lakes Commission, Council of Great Lakes Governors, Great Lakes Protection Fund and the Water Quality Board of the International Joint Commission.

The others also have strong environmental backgrounds. Before Chester became the director of Michigan’s DEQ in 2003, he worked with United States Environmental Protection Agency as the deputy enforcement counsel for Hazardous Waste Enforcement and as the deputy director for the Office of Criminal Enforcement.  He also was assistant attorney general for the Environmental Protection Division of the Michigan Department of Attorney General.

Scott was an Illinois state representative on that state’s Energy and Environment Committee, and he also has served as president of the Illinois Chapter of the National Brownfields Association.

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