The Healey Administration has followed a well-traveled path in appointing Bonnie Heiple, a respected environmental and energy attorney from a large Boston law firm (WilmerHale), as Commissioner of MassDEP. The Patrick Administration did the same when it appointed Laurie Burt, head of the environmental department at the Boston law firm Foley Hoag, as Commissioner in 2007. Heiple follows in the footsteps of a series of other lawyers turned Commissioner. While her immediate predecessor, Martin Suuberg, had a long and distinguished career in non-legal positions in the MassDEP administration, he also is an attorney by training. Before Suuberg, Ken Kimmell, another Boston environmental attorney, served as Commissioner.
Heiple will be among fellow attorneys at the head of the Commonwealth’s key environmental agencies. She was appointed by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper, who previously served as the chief of the energy and environment bureau of the Attorney General’s office under then Attorney General, now Governor Maura Healey. Melissa Hoffer now serves as Climate Chief- a newly created cabinet-level position. Previously, Hoffer also served as chief of the Energy and Environment Bureau under Healey at the Attorney General’s office (in addition to practicing law at WilmerHale, the Conservation Law Foundation, and as EPA Acting General Counsel). Finally, Stacy Rubin, another attorney, and Conservation Law Foundation alumna, now serves as one of three Commissioners of the Department of Public Utilities.
Based upon her remarks at a recent presentation to the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC), Commissioner Heiple has been busy getting oriented to her new position. She has made the rounds of each of MassDEP’s four regional offices in an effort to meet all 750 MassDEP employees and has been pleased to experience in person how “truly committed” MassDEP’s employees are to serving the public. At the same time she has been getting to know the Department employees, she has been before the legislature to testify in support of the Governor’s environmental budget and had a whirlwind of back-to-back meetings with key organizations. Her stated priorities are transparency, environmental justice, climate change, and air quality. Among her many challenges will be replacing the rapidly retiring senior staff and filling an estimated eighty new positions made available by the Governor’s pledge of 1% of the state budget for the environment.
Prior experience has shown that the appointment of outside attorneys to run the MassDEP has been successful, with many key initiatives achieved. As a new Commissioner who brings a fresh outlook to managing major staffing, climate change, and environmental justice challenges, Heiple will have her hands full. She has the right pragmatic approach of “prioritizing what can be done now while staying on track long-term.” The regulated community would do well to keep this reality in mind as it interacts with the Department over the next several months.
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