Maryland secretary, longest serving in state history, to step down for a nonprofit gig; deputy secretary to take over – Baltimore Sun

Maryland Secretary of the Environment Ben Grumbles, the longest serving environment secretary in state history, is stepping down next month to take the helm of a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, the group announced Monday.

Grumbles will start as executive director of the Environmental Council of the States on June 1. It comes as a Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s second and final term nears its end.

During Grumbles’ seven-year tenure as Maryland’s environment secretary, he served as president of the national nonprofit, which encourages collaboration between state environmental agency leaders to increase their capabilities.

Grumbles’ Department of the Environment has at times come under fire for what detractors dubbed slow responses to certain environmental concerns, and for pollution permits that were allowed to languish as staffing levels at the department declined. But officials praised him Monday as an accessible leader who steered the state in the right direction on Chesapeake Bay cleanup issues and on climate change.

In a statement, Grumbles called his job as secretary “the honor of a lifetime.”

“Maryland is a national leader in climate action and environmental protection thanks to Governor Hogan’s leadership and the tireless efforts of our department’s employees, and our many public and private sector partners throughout the state, region, and nation,” he said.

Grumbles will be replaced by his deputy secretary, Horacio Tablada, Hogan announced Monday.

Tablada, a Nicaragua native who was named a deputy secretary in 2015, has more than three decades of experience as an environmental leader in Maryland, according to a news release from Hogan’s office. He previously served as director of the department’s Land Management Administration, and helped manage environmental oversight efforts for the redevelopment of industrial sites such as the former Sparrows Point steel mill, as well as efforts to reduce childhood lead poisoning, according to the news release.

“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 properties and protection of our children from lead poisoning,” Tablada said in a news release.

Kim Coble, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, lauded Grumbles’ “open door policy” during his tenure, but said his department could have performed better when it came to issue timely water pollution permits that regulate the discharge of pollutants into state waterways.

“Secretary Tablada is going to have a true opportunity to make some real progress in that area,” she said.

In recent years, particular permits were administratively continued by the department, meaning they were not reevaluated after they lapsed, have attracted the attention of legislators and environmental advocates, including that of Valley Proteins, an Eastern Shore chicken rendering plant with a documented history of exceeding its pollution limits. Environmental advocates have at times argued that Grumbles’ department was too light-handed with polluters, including based on their decision to offer state money to help Valley Proteins improve its water treatment process. Ultimately, the funds were rescinded.

During a Maryland Senate hearing this year, Grumbles attracted questions and some consternation from legislators over his department’s decline in staffing and environmental inspections, as well as their handling of a sewage spill in Southern Maryland, which sickened two dozen people who consumed contaminated oysters. Grumbles pledged to increase staffing levels after a “silver tsunami” of retirements left them undermanned, and to increase inspections at poultry farms.

But Coble said she enjoyed her time serving alongside Grumbles on the Maryland Commission on Climate Change, which was formed by the General Assembly in 2015.

“He’s really managed that commission, which is a tough group because there’s so many diverse opinions on it and viewpoints,” she said. “He’s managed it very well.”

Coble said she “would not be surprised” if the next governor, set to take office in January at the conclusion of Hogan’s final term, decides to appoint their own environment secretary, forcing another transitional period at the department. But she added that she’s hopeful MDE employees, and the governor, will continue to guide the department and set the agenda as leadership changes.

In a statement, Josh Kurtz, the Maryland executive director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, applauded Grumbles for his leadership of the climate change commission and his “work to Chesapeake leading Bay pollution during his time reduce MDE.”

Maryland Policy & Politics

Maryland Policy & Politics

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