WASHINGTON — The Trump administration has appointed Alaskan Chris Hladick to head EPA Region 10, a Seattle-based office that oversees Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
Hladick is currently the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
He comes to the position amid major changes at the agency centered around efforts to revoke Obama-era rules and regulations. As regional administrator, he will have a major role in handling the controversy over the proposed Pebble mine, which would potentially sit in the sensitive, salmon-spawning headwaters of Bristol Bay.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker announced on Tuesday that he was replacing Hladick with outgoing Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre.
Appointment of an Alaskan to the Region 10 position is a victory for the state's congressional delegation against pressure from Washington state to nab the slot for someone from there.
Region 10 covers Alaska and the Pacific Northwest states of Idaho, Oregon and Washington, along with 271 Native tribes. The headquarters is in Seattle.
Traditionally, the position of regional administrator is one that is rotated among states, and chosen by the EPA administrator largely via input from the relevant congressional delegation, or at least those of the same party as the president. It is not a Senate-confirmed position.
It commonly takes up to a year after inauguration to appoint new regional administrators.
But from the start of the Trump administration, there were "transition" officials from Washington state who had designs on the position, and they were vocal about it. Some insisted that they had received promises of an appointment from President Donald Trump or other high-ranking officials.
And recently, Alaska Rep. Don Young said that there was still an ongoing effort by some in the Washington delegation to hold on to the position, arguing that they had not recently been able to choose an appointee under a Republican administration.
"You heard correctly," Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan said when asked Monday about the Washington state effort to take another turn at the helm of Region 10. "And we shut that down because it was Alaska's turn," he said.
In a statement Tuesday, Sullivan said that the Alaska delegation "has been relentlessly pushing to have an Alaskan serve as the Administrator for EPA's Region 10 Office."
Hladick understands the intersection of federal agencies in the state and has a history of navigating the agency's rules and regulations, Sullivan said. "He also has the heart of a public servant informed by years of experiences serving in different places across Alaska."
Before joining Walker's cabinet in 2015, Hladick spent 14 years as city manager for Unalaska, and before that, seven years as Dillingham's city manager. He headed public works in Galena.
Hladick, as city manager for Unalaska, received kudos from colleagues in 2012 for his efforts to keep EPA fines low during a dispute over upgrading a wastewater treatment plant. The city faced hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and multimillion-dollar upgrades to its sewer system due to EPA treatment mandates for water treatment and managing runoff from a nearby landfill.
Hladick is also currently involved in the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission, Northern Waters Task Force, on a working group on Arctic Marine Protected Areas, according to the EPA.
As regional administrator, Hladick will report to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in Washington, D.C.
Pruitt praised Hladick's career and knowledge base for the job. "Chris Hladick has spent his career servicing the needs of the people and tribes of Alaska," Pruitt said. "His passion in helping others, experience in managing numerous government departments, and familiarity with regional issues make him the perfect fit to address the environmental issues of Region 10."
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski lauded the pick, and said that Hladick would "implement the law instead of furthering agendas. … He knows the issues our communities face when dealing with the EPA, from fishermen struggling with overburdensome regulations to the need to ensure that Alaskans can reasonably comply with the agency's environmental rules."
Young also praised the appointment. "Having lived in and managed river and coastal communities across rural Alaska for many years, Chris understands the many challenges our residents face when dealing with government agencies, particularly the EPA. 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."
The EPA also issued accolades for Hladick from Bryce Edgmon, speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives; former Mayor Shirley Marquardt of Unalaska; Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association; and Kathie Wasserman, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League.
Hladick has worked as a carpenter in home building in Colorado, a derrick hand on oil rigs in Wyoming, a fire cache in Everglades National Park in Florida and a deckhand on barges in the Upper Mississippi River, according to his resume.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the first name of Kathie Wasserman of the Alaska Municipal League.