McLeod blames lack of support for quitting DEM

Andrew H. McLeod, the state’s top environmental official, resigned last week after what he described as a lack of political support for his department.

McLeod served as the director of the Department of Environmental Management for 15 months, during which time he thought the agency was failing to follow through with its mission.

“Leading DEM is a very challenging proposition under the best of circumstances — circumstances that, regrettably, have not existed during my tenure,” McLeod wrote in his letter of resignation. “The department’s failings are a result of its own shortcomings and, overall, an appalling lack of support for DEM from the Rhode Island body politic,” he added.

McLeod, 38, was a California environmental official and an aide to U.S. Senator John Chafee before taking the DEM post in September, 1997. He replaced Timothy R.E. Keeney, who resigned to take a position in the private sector.

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McLeod’s resignation marks the second departure from Gov. Lincoln Almond’s cabinet since the governor was re-elected earlier this month. Barry G. Hittner, who served as director of the Department of Business Regulation from the beginning of Almond’s administration four years ago, resigned two weeks ago.

In a press release, Almond acknowledged that McLeod served the DEM during a difficult period.

“Andy McLeod has led (the) DEM ably during a stressful time. He led the fight against legislative efforts to subvert the department’s ability to protect the environment, and he has championed the protection of open space throughout Rhode Island,” the governor said.

The executive director of Save the Bay, the state’s leading environmental group, called McLeod’s departure “a sign of deep trouble within the agency.”

“Having gone through two DEM directors in a single term, Governor Almond needs to act immediately to restore public confidence to this beleaguered agency,” said Save the Bay’s Curt Spalding. “With McLeod’s departure, there will be yet another leadership vacuum at the agency.”

He went on to say that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is scrutinizing the DEM’s enforcement record, which Spalding said has a backlog of thousands of cases. “This and other concerns have led to low public confidence in the agency. These are long-standing problems inherited by McLeod and their roots go far deeper than his tenure,” Spalding said.

In his resignation, McLeod pointed out the steps the DEM made under his guidance.

“We made important progress in continuing reform and improvement at DEM, fighting back legislative efforts to undermine fundamentally the Department and its authority, creating a stakeholder process to assess port development options at Quonset Point, increasing the state’s commitment to land conservation, and more,” he wrote.

McLeod warned that change will need to be widespread if the department is to recover.

“This Department will not be the first class environmental agency that it aspires to be until all Rhode Islanders, and their political leaders, make the necessary commitment to back the dedicated men and women who work here in the public interest,” he added.

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