Reprinted with permission from the Times Union
ALBANY — Former State Assemblyman Peter Lopez (R – 102nd) will take over as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s top official in a region that reaches from the Adirondacks to the storm-wracked Caribbean.
The Schoharie County Republican was named Thursday, September 28, as the new administrator of the EPA’s Region 2, which covers New York and New Jersey as well as the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Mr. Lopez, who did not respond to interview requests, was slated to join the agency last Sunday. As assemblyman in the 102nd, Mr. Lopez represented Stockport and Stuyvesant in this county. His district also covers Schoharie and Greene counties and reaches into parts of Albany, Ulster, Delaware and Otsego counties.
As regional administrator, Mr. Lopez will be responsible for the agency’s response to such local environmental issues as ongoing issues related to PFOA contamination in the Rensselaer County communities of Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh. Both the EPA and state agencies drew criticism for their initial response to the contamination.
Mr. Lopez is sure to be thrust into the agency’s response to hurricane devastation in the Caribbean. EPA’s role during such crises includes dealing with drinking water, sewage and sites rendered toxic by storm damage.
The Trump administration has faced criticisms for its early response, particularly in Puerto Rico.
“Pete Lopez has spent nearly a decade in one of the country’s largest state legislatures working to improve the quality of life of his constituents,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “His familiarity with the region and his experience working to solve environmental problems in New York will be invaluable in helping EPA serve Americans in the Northeast and the Caribbean.”
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said that “while (Lopez’s) arrival at EPA comes at a time of great uncertainty for the future of the agency, I look forward to working with him to ensure our environment and precious natural resources remains protected for all New Yorkers.”
The EPA’s official announcement included praise from Commissioner Seggos’ contemporary in New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin, as well as a number of representatives from business groups.
“I have had the chance to talk with Assemblyman Lopez and found that he has a strong commitment to protecting the environment, and especially, to working closely with the states and territories within his region,” Commissioner Martin said.
Former Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck told the Times Union that Mr. Lopez, who interned at Environmental Advocates when Ms. Enck led that organization, was a good pick considering the current political context.
“I think he is smart; I think he cares about the environment,” Ms. Enck said. “He has always been interested in solar. And I think he’ll be respectful of the career staff there.”
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has proven to be a lightning rod for environmentalists’ criticism. A former Oklahoma attorney general with a long history of legal actions against the EPA, he has been denounced as too accommodating to industry and eager to weaken existing protections.
“It’s going to be a challenge to advance environmental protection policies in this administration, but I think Pete Lopez is as good as it’s going to get in this administration,” Ms. Enck said.
First elected to the Legislature in 2006, Mr. Lopez is a member of the Assembly’s Republican minority. He announced a 2016 run for Congress in the 19th District, but dropped out of the race early.
Mr. Lopez’s seat will have to be filled either in a special election, which would be called by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, or in the 2018 general election. The deadline to have the seat filled in the November 7 general election has passed.
Mr. Lopez — whose father, Pedro, is from Puerto Rico — has dealt with disaster before, representing hard-hit areas of upstate following tropical storms Irene and Lee in 2011.
The recent devastation in the territories “is on an entirely different scale,” Ms. Enck said. “But I think his Irene and Lee experience will prove helpful.”
To contact reporter Matthew Hamilton email moc.n1516164501oinus1516164501emit@1516164501notli1516164501mahm1516164501