Perciasepe in line for EPA post Environment chief for Md. would lead water-quality efforts

July 15, 1993|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

Maryland's environment secretary is expected to be nominated soon by the White House as the nation's top water-quality officer.

Robert Perciasepe, who has directed Maryland's pollution-control and waste-management efforts for 2 1/2 years, is in line to become assistant administrator for water of the Environmental Protection Agency.

If confirmed by the Senate, he would oversee nationwide efforts to curb water pollution, protect wetlands and safeguard drinking water.

Yesterday Mr. Perciasepe would only say that he has been contacted by Clinton administration officials and that he has told them he would take the post if nominated.

According to state sources, Mr. Perciasepe has informed members of his staff and Gov. William Donald Schaefer of the likely appointment.

A Baltimore resident, Mr. Perciasepe, 42, spent 12 years in the city's planning department before following Mr. Schaefer into state government.

An environmental sciences graduate of Cornell University with a master's degree in planning from Syracuse University, Mr. Perciasepe left city government in 1987 to join the newly formed environment department as assistant secretary for capital programs and planning, and later became deputy secretary.

He is not familiar to national environmental and business groups with which he would be dealing.

"I personally don't know him," said Robert Adler, an attorney handling water-pollution issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington.

But Mr. Perciasepe has earned the respect of many environmental activists and business leaders in Maryland.

He is said to be open and responsive, yet firm in enforcing state and federal laws.

His agency, the Department of the Environment, has 770 employees and a $59 million budget.

As Maryland's second environment secretary in the 6-year-old agency, Mr. Perciasepe has been the Schaefer administration's point man in combating persistent air-quality problems.

He helped steer "California car" legislation through the General Assembly this year, a victory that could bring a big reduction in pollution from autos beginning in the late 1990s.

And Mr. Perciasepe has been a key player in the multistate campaign to restore the Chesapeake Bay, helping to refocus cleanup efforts on bay tributaries, where the estuary's fish spawn and feed.

His tenure has not been without controversy. For example, environmentalists and some local officials have faulted his agency for moving slowly against leaking landfills, which contaminate ground water.

Moreover, state auditors have criticized the agency's financial administration, though most of the waste and mismanagement cited so far dates back to the department's early days, before Mr. Perciasepe took over as secretary.

He gets fairly good marks from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We've agreed with him more than we disagreed," said William C. Baker, president of the organization.

Mr. Perciasepe can be tough, supporters say. His agency fined the Army $5,000 for improper storage and disposal of chemical waste at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the weapons-research and testing facility in Harford County.

Acting in concert with EPA, the Maryland Department of the Environment sued Bethlehem Steel Corp. for long-standing air-pollution violations at its Sparrows Point steel mill. The action prompted the company to shut down its coke ovens there.

But business leaders credit Mr. Perciasepe with frequently trying to work out such disputes before they wind up in court. "He's been fair. He's always listened," said Ernie Kent, vice president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "He's not going to be a champion of any one particular cause. . . . He's going to make sure it's a balanced approach."

If he gets the EPA post, Mr. Perciasepe must recuse himself for 12 months from any decision directly involving Maryland.

The federal agenda on water quality is a busy one. Congress is rewriting the Clean Water Act, and environmental groups are demanding aggressive federal action to curb toxic pollution and runoff from farms and cities.

At the EPA, Mr. Perciasepe would be "stepping into some real hot spots," said Peter deFur, of the Environmental Defense Fund.

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