Last week, Maryland’s Republican Governor-elect Larry Hogan hinted at the direction he’ll take the state on two key environmental issues when he announced who would be in charge of two major government agencies: the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Department of Environment (MDE).
For the secretary of the DNR, Hogan picked Charles Evans Jr., the former assistant DNR secretary under former Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich. For the MDE, Hogan chose Ben Grumbles, the former assistant administrator for water at the Environmental Protection Agency under president George W. Bush and current president of the non-profit U.S. Water Alliance.
Both men will play key roles in decision making surrounding two of the state’s biggest environmental issues: fracking — the controversial oil and gas well stimulation technique recently approved by current Gov. Martin O’Malley — and the ongoing cleanup of the polluted Chesapeake Bay.
Hogan himself has said little about how he would approach fracking in Maryland. In an interview with the Baltimore Sun, Hogan said he would “want to make sure that [fracking] is done in an environmentally sensitive way, and that we take every precaution possible,” but also cited Maryland residents who need jobs.
Hogan’s choice of Grumbles as environment secretary embodies the nature of that quote: that fracking likely will happen, but with some precautions. Grumbles was heavily involved with fracking while serving as an EPA administrator under Bush, most notably overseeing the release of a 2004 report that determined the controversial process was safe for drinking water. That report was eventually used by the Bush administration to pass a law that prohibited the EPA from regulating fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Since then, however, Grumbles has expressed doubt over whether fracking should have been exempted under the Safe Drinking Water Act. He told the New York Times that the report was never meant to give fracking a “clean bill of health,” and told ProPublica in a 2011 interview that he supported the EPA’s effort to revisit the law, “given the increasing amount of information and concern over the practice.” He also said he supported a community’s right to know what kind of chemicals are used during the fracking process.
Perhaps the best embodiment of Grumbles’ position on fracking is the title of a 2011 column he wrote on the subject: “Drill, Maybe, Drill!”
“In my view, ‘drill, maybe, drill’ means more review along a more thoughtful path, one that can include fracking, even in large amounts, but in the right place, at the right time, with the right amount of government oversight, and with water running through the policymaking from beginning to end,” he wrote.
As for how Hogan will handle the polluted Chesapeake Bay, the backstory of incoming DNR secretary Charles Evans Jr. can provide some insight.
Evans’ environmental record is not bad: back in 2004, he helped create the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, which ramped up efforts to stop the abundant nutrient pollution plaguing the Bay. He also credits himself with forming the Targeted Watershed Initiative in 2006, a grant program for Maryland communities to clean up their land and waters that ultimately flow into the Chesapeake Bay. Currently, Evans serves on the board of the non-profit Oyster Recovery Partnership.
But Evans is also a businessman who spent more than 40 years in real estate development and consulting, the same field Hogan made his living at aside from his stints in government.
Whether that private sector experience will be a boon or a bane for the environment during Evans’ tenure remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: Evans is at least somewhat personally attached to the Bay. Before being named Hogan’s new DNR secretary, Evans spent two years writing a novel about it: a thriller called “Terror on the Bay.” He also has a Chesapeake Bay Retriever, named Tucker.