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State environment secretary steps down

Maryland environment Secretary Shari T. Wilson will resign next month, officials announced Tuesday afternoon.

Wilson made a “personal decision” in requesting not to be a part of Gov. Martin O’Malley’s cabinet in his second term, according to a statement released by the Department of the Environment.

Secretary James E. Lyons, who led the Maryland Higher Education Commission, also announced his retirement Tuesday. His last day will be Jan. 1.

Wilson and Lyons will be the second and third departures from O’Malley’s cabinet since the Nov. 2 election. Department of Juvenile Services Secretary Donald W. DeVore resigned last week.

O’Malley, in a statement, praised Wilson for crafting an approach to climate change, reducing stormwater pollution and her efforts to “increase efficiency and accountability within the agency.”

But in an interview with The Daily Record shortly before the election, O’Malley singled out enforcement of environmental regulations as an area in need of improvement in his second term.

“I’ve been disappointed at times with the lack of timeliness,” he said then. “I know every agency has absorbed staff reductions, but the lack of timeliness and lack of clarity on some of these environmental calls … I think people would rather know up front why they won’t be allowed to do something than after they’ve spent $100,000 hiring lawyers and architects and engineers.”

One of the highest-profile regulatory miscues involved the $1 billion waste-fueled power plant in Baltimore. In March 2009, after an informal inquiry, the Department of the Environment said Energy Answers International would not need a waste disposal permit for the project.

But, 18 months later, the department reversed course and said the company did indeed need the permit, throwing the project partially funded by stimulus funds into doubt.

Energy Answers and the department finally reached an agreement in the summer and O’Malley was on hand last month to celebrate an announced December groundbreaking.

Wilson also weathered intense criticism from O’Malley’s opponent during the gubernatorial campaign. Former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, heaped blame upon her department for creating what he called an unpredictable and hostile regulatory culture in the state.

Wilson followed O’Malley from Baltimore to the state government after his election in 2006. She worked in the law and planning departments between 2004 and 2007. Previously, she served as an assistant attorney general and was a General Assembly staffer.

Wilson’s last day will be Dec. 6. Robert Summers, the department’s deputy secretary, will serve as acting secretary until Wilson’s replacement is named.