Environment groups vow to defeat Buhl

Ehrlich asked to rescind her nomination as secretary of agency

Lack of experience noted

Governor says he'll fight to have Senate confirm former Michigan official

February 28, 2003|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

The state's leading environmental organizations announced yesterday that they will try to block Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s nominee to head the Department of the Environment, saying she lacks the experience needed to head the agency.

Ten environmental groups wrote a letter to Ehrlich yesterday asking him to rescind Lynn Y. Buhl's nomination before the Senate takes up her confirmation.

Ehrlich immediately rejected the letter and vowed to vigorously fight to get her confirmed by the Senate, which plans to hold a hearing on Buhl on Monday.

Environmental leaders also targeted Ehrlich's choice for deputy secretary, Kendl P. Philbrick, but that position does not require Senate confirmation.

"We feel strongly that your nominees lack both the experience required to manage an agency of this size and the credibility to bring together all the stakeholders concerned with these issues," the letter stated.

The criticism comes despite a feverish effort by Ehrlich and Buhl to win the endorsement of the state's environmental community. Two days ago, Buhl and seven senior administration officials met with environmental leaders, and she has lobbied some influential senators.

Yesterday, Ehrlich and Buhl said they were stunned by the environmentalists' decision, but pledged to take their case directly to the Senate.

"None of them can tell me anything specific that is wrong with her. It's all general. `We don't like her. We don't like who she worked for,'" Ehrlich said.

Buhl is a former midlevel administrator in the Michigan Department of the Environment, an agency that has been roundly criticized by environmentalists for what they perceive as lax enforcement of regulations.

Before that, she was a corporate attorney for Chrysler Corp. In the mid-1980s, she was an attorney at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Philbrick is a former executive vice president of LMC Properties Inc., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. "This team is just not good enough for Maryland," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

The other environmental groups opposing Buhl include the Audubon Naturalist Society, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Cleanup Coalition, Clean Water Action, Haztrack, Maryland Conservation Council, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Public Interest Research Group and Sierra Club.

"I am surprised they decided to take a negative view so early," Buhl said.

But prominent Democratic Senate leaders said they, too, are uncomfortable with Buhl -- setting the stage for a potentially contentious confirmation process.

With most of Ehrlich's other Cabinet secretaries confirmed, some Democratic senators may try to pick a fight with the governor over at least one of his appointments.

"If I had to vote right now, I would vote no," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat and member of the Executive Nominations Committee. "She has the burden of showing us she is qualified and so far the administration hasn't met that burden."

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. questioned Buhl's credentials to lead an agency responsible for ensuring the safety of the state's air and water.

"Ms. Buhl located this position on the Internet. She came from not an environmentally friendly state and did not have a major policy-making role there," Miller said, adding he would preferred Ehrlich pick someone more familiar with Maryland.

Ehrlich said, however, he is "reasonably confident" that Buhl will be confirmed.

In Michigan, Buhl was director of the Department of the Environment's Detroit area offices under former Gov. John Engler. Her resume says she was responsible for "identification and concern to top management" and coordinated department activities on major projects.

But in trying to win support in Maryland, Buhl has been walking a fine line between trying to distance herself from Michigan's environmental policies -- which were unpopular with many environmentalists -- while demonstrating that she had a fair level of authority in the state.

"The department she served under in Michigan has an awful record on environmental things and that is not going to transfer well to Maryland," said Terry J. Harris, executive director of the Cleanup Coalition in Baltimore.

Maryland's secretary oversees about 1,100 employees and administers environmental enforcement programs. The department also responds to environmental emergencies.

Buhl conceded she has a delicate balancing act, but is unsure how she will handle it.

She maintains she will work to strengthen environmental protection while giving the business community a seat at the table. Buhl and Ehrlich believe former Gov. Parris N. Glendening shut out the business community on critical environmental decisions.

"She is very much interested in building a consensus on some of these issues," said Kathy Snyder, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce. "We hope that she will be confirmed."

To help make the case that she is environmentally sensitive, Buhl and Ehrlich's staff have been pointing out that she is a member of the Sierra Club.

But David Willett, a spokesman for the Sierra Club in Washington, said the group's records indicate Buhl received a gift membership in 1998 and never paid the $35 to renew the membership.

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