Nishida leaves Cabinet for consultant position

Environment secretary ran agency since 1995

April 13, 2002|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Jane T. Nishida, the longest-serving member of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's Cabinet, has resigned to work as a consultant on environmental issues in Asia.

Nishida, 46, who was appointed to head MDE in January 1995, is the last remaining member of Glendening's original Cabinet.

She has been a fixture in Maryland environmental policy circles since 1981, serving as a legislative staffer, an aide to Govs. Harry Hughes and William Donald Schaefer, and attorney for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation before becoming the MDE secretary.

"That is just an incredible background, which we all relied on," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of the conservation group 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

"It's a real shame. She is going to take with her a knowledge base that can't be replaced."

Nishida will become a senior policy adviser at the Washington-based Planning and Development Collaborative. The firm helps advise developing countries on how to mesh environmental and economic progress, she said.

Nishida said she has a lifelong interest in Asian affairs. "My father was with the U.S. Foreign Service, so I grew up in Japan, India and Taiwan."

It was a rare personal disclosure from a woman described by Schmidt-Perkins and others as "intensely private."

"She has a kind of quiet personality and does not have an outsized ego," said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Michael Burke, the liaison between the agency's regional office and Maryland state government.

"I think she was overlooked a little bit. Over the years, I think a lot of the credit for [Glendening's] increasing environmental ethic goes to Jane Nishida."

Nishida said Glendening "has given me tremendous support and leadership."

The chronically underfunded MDE, which must maintain a delicate balance between the demands of environmentalists and industry, she said, "is a very challenging agency to work in, but one that has such a critical role in protecting Maryland's environment, and that's why it was so rewarding to work there."

In the General Assembly's 90-day session that ended Monday, Nishida helped win legislative approval of laws aimed at reducing air and water pollution and improving the safety of the state's industrial chemical stockpiles.

Nishida said her new employers approached her several months ago, "but I decided to stay through the session because I knew how important the governor's environmental agenda was."

Those who have worked with her said that if Nishida ever clashed with the strong-minded governor, as some departed Cabinet members did, she kept it quiet. It's unlikely, however, that she left for that reason, Burke said.

"Working in these very demanding jobs takes its toll," Burke said. "People see the end of the administration coming, and they start thinking about what they are going to do with the next phase of their lives."

Nishida's last day on the job will be April 26. The deputy secretary, Merrylin Zaw-Mon, will serve as the interim secretary of the department, an agency spokesman said.

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