Former corporate real estate executive Kendl P. Philbrick will become acting secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment on Monday, a promotion that has some environmental advocates worried that the regulatory agency may tilt toward business interests.
Philbrick will replace acting secretary Lynn Y. Buhl, the polarizing figure from Michigan whose rejection by the Maryland Senate this year delivered Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. one of his most visible setbacks.
Buhl, a former Chrysler Corp. attorney, is moving to the state planning department to focus on the redevelopment of contaminated industrial sites known as brownfields, officials said.
"Lynn moves on. I'm going to step up and continue to pursue the initiatives she and I were going to pursue," Philbrick said in an interview yesterday. He has worked as deputy secretary since January, while Buhl has remained on the job since the March 11 vote against her.
But activists -- who mounted the intense campaign against Buhl that resulted in the first Senate denial of a governor's Cabinet nominee in memory -- said they were equally troubled that Philbrick's career in corporate real estate leaves him ill-suited to protect the state's land, water and air.
Most recently, he was executive vice president for LMC Properties Inc., a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin Corp. He held similar positions with Colgate Palmolive and the American Can Co.
"If you don't have at the helm the people who have a background in the environmental community, you could have results that are skewed in favor of pollution, rather than clean air or clean water," said Theresa Pierno, Maryland executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Philbrick brushed aside those concerns, saying he intends to serve as a strong steward of the environment while listening to the needs of all groups.
"This administration believes we can have the interests of all parties represented at the table," Philbrick said. "My job is to protect the environment. I believe business and the environment can exist together. There's no doubt about it."
Sen. Brian E. Frosh of Montgomery County, an outspoken environmentalist who led the fight against Buhl's confirmation, called Philbrick's rise "a stunning development."
Just two months ago, Frosh said, administration officials were offering to fire Philbrick as part of a negotiated deal to secure Buhl's approval.
"They offered his head on a stake," he said.
The Ehrlich administration seems reluctant to enter another divisive nomination fight. Philbrick will be acting secretary for the foreseeable future, said Paul E. Schurick, the governor's communications director.
"Right now, we have no plans to submit his name" as a formal nominee, Schurick said, meaning Philbrick would not go through the Senate approval process. "We see no reason at this point to subject him to the inconsiderate theatrics the last nominee received."
Frosh -- a Democrat and chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee -- warned the administration against attempting "an end-run around the Senate."
"It will not stand up to legal scrutiny," he said. "I would hope they wouldn't go that way."
Advocates say that in addition to Philbrick's appointment, other changes inside the department could create a pro-business bent.
Stuart Wilkins, who has worked in the technology industry, will become assistant secretary for operations next week, according to an internal department e-mail. Jonas A. Jacobson, an attorney and lobbyist who has represented polluters before the department, will become director of waste administration, replacing longtime manager Rick Collins.
"You have someone in charge with little experience, and many senior people being shown the door," said Susan Brown, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. "How is this agency going to accomplish its mission of protecting our drinking water and cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay?"