An Alaskan state official who contended with the Environmental Protection Agency as the manager of a city in the Aleutian Islands has been picked to be the agency’s new Northwest administrator.
The selection of Alaska commerce director Chris Hladick, announced Thursday by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, was welcomed by the head of a Washington farm group critical of the previous regional administrator, Dennis McLerran.
“What little we’ve heard about (Hladick) is that he’s a competent administrator,” said Gerald Baron, director of Save Family Farming. “We have big hopes given the very troubled relationship between the farm community as a whole and the Dennis McLerran era.”
Hladick will oversee Seattle-based Region 10, which takes in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and about 270 tribes. Michelle Pirzadeh, who was deputy regional administrator under McLerran, has been acting director since January.
Farm groups in Washington were critical of the EPA under the Obama administration, accusing it of overreaching and favoring environmental organizations. Outrage over What’s Upstream, an EPA-funded lobbying campaign by a Puget Sound tribe to restrict farming near water in Washington, deepened the rift.
Washington Farm Bureau director of government relations Tom Davis said the organization has not met Hladick, but is optimistic that “his appointment is in line with the fair and balanced approach Secretary Pruitt has brought to EPA.”
“All that agriculture is asking for is a fair shake when it comes to regulatory activities,” he said.
In 2012, Hladlick signed a consent decree with the EPA on behalf of Unalaska, a city of 4,400 people and the setting for the Discovery Channel’s reality show “The Deadliest Catch.” The city admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to pay a $340,000 fine and pledge to upgrade a sewer plant to settle a federal lawsuit alleging the city had polluted the bay.
At the time, Hladlick issued a written statement saying the improved plant will have benefits for years, but added that utility rates would probably double, and that “there is no evidence of actual damage to the environment or diminishment of any threatened species by our current waste water treatment system.”
The Bristol Bay Times reported the city spent more than $500,000 in legal fees, but avoided a threatened fine by the EPA of more than $150 million.
“Chris Hladick knows first-hand the overbearing nature of the previous administration’s EPA, helping lead a challenge against them while serving as city manager of Unalaska,” U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said in a written statement. “I’m optimistic Chris can begin rebuilding a level of trust and confidence in the EPA that was steadily eroded over the previous eight years.”
Hladick was appointed the commissioner of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development in early 2015. He had been city manager of Unalaska, the state’s 11th largest city, for 14 years.
Previously, he had been city manager of Dillingham, Alaska, for seven years and before that worked in the public works department for Galen, Alaska, according to the Bristol Bay Times.
U.S. Sen Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said in a written statement that the state’s all-Republican congressional delegation had been “relentlessly pushing to have an Alaskan” appointed Region 10 administrator.