Alert 646: Gov. Jack Markell nominates CA economic development staffer [to head environmental regulation in Delaware]

Today Governor Jack Markell’s office announced the nomination of Collin O’Mara to head the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).

O’Mara is presently employed as “clean technology policy strategist” or “Clean Tech Strategist” in the Office of Economic Development ( http://www.sjeconomy.com/) of San Jose, California.

So far as we can immediately tell, O’Mara has no experience in environmental regulation or environmental advocacy.

San Jose San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed has put a lot of emphasis on “green technology and renewable energy.” Unfortunately this seems to include such very brown technologies are garbage and sewage sludge incineration.

One source says:

“I had a chance to speak with Collin O’Mara, the city of San Jose’s Clean Tech Strategist. Collin’s the strategic lead for Mayor Chuck Reed’s Green Vision, a 15-year plan to turn San Jose into the world’s epicenter for clean tech innovation. O’Mara and his team also happen to lead San Jose’s Clean Tech Strategy team, which is focused on development relationships with investors and companies the team can bring into the City of San Jose, where these companies can grow and develop and bring jobs to the city – – they work not only with their incubator staff teams, but with the vc community, universities, investors, and entrepreneurs as well as regional and national government.” ( http://www.laraabrams.com/wordpress/on-the-city-of-san-joses-cleantech-team/ )

San Jose’s Green Vision plan sets out 10 goals to meet within 15 years:

1. Create 25,000 clean-tech jobs as the world centre of clean-tech innovation.
2. Reduce per capita energy use by 50 per cent.
3. Receive 100 per cent of its electrical power from clean renewable sources.
4. Build or retrofit 50 million square feet of green buildings.
5. Divert 100 per cent of the waste from its landfill and convert waste to energy.
6. Recycle or reuse 100 per cent of its waste water (380 million litres per day) by delivering it to major businesses, city parks and landscaping, and school grounds.
7. Adopt a General Plan with measurable standards for sustainable development. (This plan includes the development of high-density housing and public transit.)
8. Ensure that 100 per cent of public fleet vehicles run on alternative fuels.
9. Plant 100,000 new trees and replace 100 per cent of the city’s streetlights with smart, zero-emission lighting.
10. Create more than 160 kilometres of interconnected trails that will allow residents to travel more easily by bicycle or on foot.
( http://www.ottawacitizen.com/story_print.html?id=976896&sponsor =)
” …The little bit that’s left on the biosolid side, we’re converting to energy. That’s what we’re talking about when we say ‘waste-to-energy.’ We’re not talking about incinerators. The problem with those is they create power, but they pollute,” O’Mara said.” ( http://www.govtech.com/gt/print_article.php?id=268814)

So who is this person?

“A native of Syracuse, New York, Collin O’Mara graduated from Dartmouth College with high honors in History and Classics. As a senior, he conducted field-research in fifty Greek archaeological sites in preparation for his thesis, “The Development of a Democratic Civic Identity and Civic Ideology.” As an undergraduate, O’Mara served as an assistant to Congressman James Walsh and as a coordinator for Senator John McCain’s New Hampshire Presidential Primary youth campaign. On campus, O’Mara served as Class President and on the Committee on Standards. Following graduation, O’Mara returned to Syracuse as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer to teach in the inner-city school for violent students. In February 2002, Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll appointed O’Mara to oversee SyraStat, his computerized accountability division.” ( http://www.marshallscholarship.org/scholars/profiles/2003scholars/n-z )

Calls to Mr, O’Mara and to Gov. Markell’s office have not been immediately returned. Nobody in the newsroom of the San Jose Mercury that we talked to had heard of him. He appears to have no formal science or technical background, no environmental regulatory experience, and the silly quotes about garbage incineration suggest he may not understand basic concepts of science. On the other hand, San Jose is a far more progressive place than Delaware. Overall, O’Mara looks like a better choice for an economic development position than to head Delaware’s environmental regulatory agency.

There’s a fundamental conflict between regulation and economic development. Both are important but they often conflict and need to be kept separate to preserve the integrity of both. Markell, obviously, does not agree. This, along with patterns of DNREC decisions since he took office, suggest Markell may be good at promoting the “new economy” but does not seem very interested in protecting us from the old one.

Note, for example, a recent DNREC decision allowing NVF to increase its discharges of toxic zinc into the Red Clay Creek from 1.8 pounds per day to 56 pounds per day. ( Secretary’s Order No. 2009-W-0007). The DNREC press release did not give the before and after amounts.

(This is not to say that regulators should not be flexible and innovative. They should be when appropriate, and in many cases regulatory programs have become somewhat fossilized.)

Here’s the Markell release about the O’Mara nomination:

********************

Markell Nominates Climate Prosperity Leader to Head DNREC

Advocates praise bold choice of “true environmental champion”

WILMINGTON — Following through on his commitment to fight for Delaware’s environmental health and welfare, Gov. Jack Markell announced on Tuesday he will be nominating Collin O’Mara — a nationally recognized climate prosperity expert — to be his administration’s Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

If confirmed by the Senate, O’Mara will be stepping down from his position with the nearly 100,000-resident City of San Jose. He has been responsible for implementing San Jose’s Green Vision program, an ambitious plan to marry environmental sustainability with economic development in the epicenter of Silicon Valley. O’Mara’s stewardship of the program is credited with attracting more than 50 clean technology companies and attracting more than 3,000 jobs.

“When I was sworn in, I took an oath to protect Delaware’s precious natural resources,” Markell said. “Nominating Collin O’Mara lives up to that oath. I am confident that he will be a tireless advocate for Delaware’s environment and a responsible steward of our resources. If confirmed, he will lead my administration’s efforts to put environmental sustainability at the forefront of our public policy discussions. That work will not only improve the quality of our air, land and soil, but it will also help our economy because our environmental and economic health are intertwined. The success of one should lead to the success of the other, and Collin is a national leader in this field.”

Even as our economy transitions to cleaner energy, enforcement of traditional energy and industries must be diligently pursued, Markell said, adding that “Collin will be a strong protector of our precious natural assets and will ensure DNREC fulfills its obligation to regulate polluters. His experience in making government more effective and efficient is also critical as we work with legislators to close the historic budget shortfall facing us.”

O’Mara’s commitment to protecting the environment has impressed advocates in Delaware and around the country.

“Collin O’Mara understands the challenges climate change will be bringing to Delaware, has been a strong advocate for environmental protections and has experience in renewable energy and efficiency that will help Delaware move forward toward a more sustainable future,” said Debbie Heaton, a long-time leading environmental activist in Delaware. “I think he will be a great Secretary and look forward to working with him as we address the significant environmental issues facing our state.”

Before coming to San Jose in 2006, O’Mara served as the assistant director of management and budget for the City of Syracuse (NY), where he saved taxpayers millions of dollars by better tracking public expenditures and services. After graduating from Dartmouth, O’Mara was named a Marshall Scholar and earned a Masters in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford University and a Masters of Public Administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. He recently completed Stanford Business School’s Executive Management Program in Business Strategies for Environmental Sustainability.

“Governor Markell is building a national reputation as an innovator who is willing to tackle difficult problems head-on. I am honored by the opportunity to be nominated and the chance, if confirmed, to get to work for the people of Delaware,” O’Mara said. “an outdoorsman I cannot wait to explore Delaware’s beautiful state parks and to cast a line in one of Delaware’s many lakes, ponds and streams.”

San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed called O’Mara the “œdriving force” behind the city’s Green Vision program, which established ten bold goals for job creation, renewable energy, energy efficiency, green building, recycling, water recycling and zero-emission vehicles to create a market for green products and spur green economic development.

“His balance of idealism and pragmatism has encouraged business and community leaders to look at the opportunities that environmental sustainability offers for creating economy prosperity,”  Reed said. “While Collin will be sorely missed, he has helped us launch this vision for future success and can do the same for the people of Delaware.”

O’Mara also has experience making government more effective and more efficient, which is critical in the face of the historic challenges Delaware state government must address. While working for the City of Syracuse, New York, O’Mara managed the SyraStat project that saved local taxpayers more than $14 million over two years and improved the delivery of key services.

“Collin O’Mara has displayed exceptional leadership qualities. He understands the important role accountability plays in the efficient management and delivery of government services,” said Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll.  “I am sure he will bring that background to promoting sustainable practices and clean technology solutions. His vision, passion, intellect, and collaborative style make him a perfect choice for Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and I am confident that he will do great things for the State of Delaware.”

O’Mara’s work to foster environmentally friendly economic development has won praise from a broad array of environmental advocates and members of the business community.

Margaret Bruce, U.S. Western Regional Director of The Climate Group said: “Collin O’Mara is a true environmental champion. He has a clear vision for what a sustainable world with a low-carbon economy can look like and the skill-set to help move Delaware into a national leadership position. He possesses the rare and valuable talent of seeing the world through the lens of the possible, not the established or ideological. His strong environmental and social ethos blends with a cool head, a keen mind, and a knack for problem solving [and would] serve as Secretary of Natural Resources and Environmental Control with distinction.”

Jeffrey Finkle, President and CEO of the International Economic Development Council said: “Collin O’Mara has a clear vision for ending our dependence on foreign oil and addressing climate change in a way that will accelerate our recovery out of the current recession and strengthen the America economy for generations to come. He understands the potential for bold environmental leadership to create unparalleled job creation opportunities, new domestic wealth, an improved trade deficit, and long-term economic security.”

Bob Baugh, Executive Director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, said: “Collin O’Mara brings both vision and common sense to making environmental economic development policy a reality. His work in San Jose embraced an environmental innovation agenda that recognizes that everyone from workers with a high school education to PhD’s have something to contribute to a cleaner planet. His effort to challenge old assumptions, champion new business models and to link new manufacturing opportunities to Silicon Valley’s R&D expertise is the base for broadly shared prosperity. The Governor has made an excellent choice.”

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