Changing of the guard: Horacio Tablada replaces Grumbles as state environmental chief – Advice Eating

John R. Griffin, left, who served as Secretary of Natural Resources under former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), consults with Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles at a fundraiser of Maryland League of Conservation voters. Photo by Josh Kurtz.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced Monday that Deputy Environment Secretary Horacio Tablada will succeed current Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles effective June 1.

Grumbles is leaving office to become executive director of the Environmental Council of the States, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan association of state and territory environmental officials based in Washington, D.C., according to a press release from the Hogan administration Environment Ministers in State History.

“Horacio Tablada has dedicated his career to serving the public and protecting the environment and public health,” Hogan said in a statement. “He will lead MDE’s ongoing work to protect and restore the environment, including the Chesapeake Bay, boost jobs and our economy through the safe restoration of brownfield sites, and help the state meet its climate goals through partnerships.”

The change comes as Hogan completes his second term as governor next January and an increasing number of senior administration officials begin their transition.

Maryland’s new Secretary of the Environment, Horacio Tablada. Photo by the Maryland Department of the Environment.

Tablada has worked for the Maryland Department of Environment for the past three decades, beginning with the Department’s environmental regulatory programs in 1985 and later serving as Director of the Department’s Land Management Administration and finally as Assistant Secretary beginning in 2015.

“I look forward to serving the citizens of Maryland and continuing to advance the science-based policies that have resulted in cleaner air, a cleaner Chesapeake Bay, sustainable and restored homes, and protecting our children from lead poisoning,” Tablada said in a statement.

Tablada is from Nicaragua and came to the United States in 1975. He and his wife live in Elkridge. They have three adult children and one grandchild.

Grumbles was the Hogan administration’s lead ambassador to the environmental community, although they did not always see eye to eye. He has recently been criticized by environmentalists and lawmakers for enforcement and understaffing his department following concerns about the state’s drinking water systems and a backlog of expired water quality permits.

Last month, the General Assembly passed sweeping climate change legislation, setting the state a target to cut its carbon emissions to 60% below 2006 levels and be carbon neutral by 2045. This goal will be partially achieved by significantly requiring owners of large buildings to reduce their use of fossil fuels from 2030 onwards.

In response to the backlog of so-called “zombie permits,” which refer to the period after one permit expires and before a new one is granted, lawmakers have also passed a bill requiring MDE to clear the backlog of these permits by 2026 and each facility to be inspected that is in significant non-compliance with its water quality permit, once a month beginning in July. The agency must also inspect facilities operating under “zombie permits” every 90 days.

Kim Coble, the executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and co-chair with Grumbles of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, said she has “complete confidence” in Tablada’s ability to lead the Environment Department because he has “great authority” over the technical concerns” and knows the history of the agency.

Coble said she hopes Tablada builds on the work of the General Assembly on tackling climate change, which by passing Climate Solutions Now has made it clear that climate is a priority and a pressing issue in the state – and that the Environment Department has a role to play in doing so implementation of the bill plays a major role, Coble said.

“It’s a big, big job and it’s going to take real leadership from the governor and the agency to ensure it does [implementation] happened,” Coble said.

Coble said she also hopes the Department of Environment will prioritize enforcing water quality permits and have enough staff, funded from the governor’s budget, to carry out its mission.

Victoria Venable, the director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network in Maryland, said she hopes the agency can more quickly update state regulations on methane pollution released from landfills. In 2017, the department held its first meeting on what new regulations might look like, but it stalled, Venable said. Methane is 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it enters the atmosphere.

Last year, an environmental group revealed that MDE grossly underestimated the amount of methane coming from landfills in the state, reporting four times less than the amount actually emitted. The Environment Department said this was due to mathematical and data-based errors.

Suzanne Dorsey, Assistant Secretary for the Environment Department, will take Tablada’s place as Assistant Secretary.

In Grumbles, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) is getting a veteran regulator who has worked in government and led a non-profit organization, the US Water Alliance. He has also served as Director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, Assistant Administrator for Water at the US Environmental Protection Agency, and a senior advisor to two congressional committees.

“We are pleased to have a visionary leader of Ben’s caliber stepping into the role of ECOS executive director,” said Myra Reece, director of the South Carolina Department of Health and Environment, who served as chair of the ECOS Search Committee. “Not only does he know the association inside out, but he also has an unparalleled depth and breadth of political knowledge.”

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