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Head of Virginia environmental agency staying in his job

April 2, 2018

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday reappointed the long-serving director of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates the state’s biggest polluters and has a say in major development projects such as natural gas pipelines and power plants.

Director David Paylor has worked in environmental regulation in Virginia since 1973 and has led the department since 2006 under both Democratic and Republican governors. Northam, a Democrat, said in a statement that Paylor had served “admirably” and that he was “happy to reappoint him.”

“Caring for our natural resources and expanding our clean energy economy are among my top priorities as governor and I am confident that David will help execute that agenda,” the statement said.

The news drew a mixed but largely negative reaction from the environmental community.

“Today is a disappointment, and it can’t be spun any other way other than this is setback for environmental advocacy in the state,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

Tidwell said he was surprised by the decision and said various environmental leaders had told the Northam administration they were unhappy with Paylor, who has been critiqued as overly friendly to big industry.

Paylor has drawn criticism in the past for accepting a trip to the Masters golf tournament in Georgia paid for by Dominion Energy, which the department regulates. The department has more recently come under fire from opponents of two controversial natural gas pipelines, who contend DEQ has not been thorough or transparent in its review process.

Ann Regn, a department spokeswoman, said Paylor was unavailable for an interview Monday afternoon.

Of the criticism from environmental groups, she said, Paylor’s 2013 trip to the tournament was legal and said in all cases the agency strives to be consistent in applying the “science and legality” that drives its decisions.

The department with around 1,000 workers and a budget for the 2018 fiscal year of nearly $177 million conducts tasks including monitoring, and inspections and enforcement. DEQ workers also issue environmental permits to businesses, governments and facilities that establish how much pollution they are allowed to emit.

Paylor wrote to Northam shortly after his November election and said he would be happy to continue serving as the department’s director, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

Regn said in January that “lots of people throw their hats in the ring” to work with a new administration and that Paylor had been asked to stay on through the General Assembly session while the administration made its way through appointments.

Asked whether other interviews were conducted or whether anyone else was offered the job, Northam’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said the office doesn’t comment on the particulars of the personnel process.

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