George Crombie named Natural Resources Secretary

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(Host) Vermont’s new Natural Resources Secretary is a career public official who has worked for both Progressives and Republicans.

Governor Jim Douglas on Wednesday named George Crombie to lead the agency that’s responsible for protecting the state’s environment.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) George Crombie currently works as public works director in Plymouth, Massachusetts. But in Vermont he’s known as the man who oversaw the city of Burlington’s efforts to clean up Lake Champlain in the 1980s.

At the time Crombie was the city’s first Public Works director under then-mayor Bernie Sanders. Burlington launched an innovative $52 million dollar plan to improve treatment plants and to separate storm water from city sewer lines so heavy rains would no longer flush pollution directly into the big lake.

Steve Goodkind was the city engineer under Crombie and is now Burlington’s public works director.

(Goodkind) “We upgraded three wastewater treatment plants, we did some source separation. But maybe more importantly we actually ended up putting treatment for storm water. It remains the largest storm water treatment system in Vermont.”

(Dillon) Storm water pollution – it’s the dirty run off that flows from parking lots and city streets -remains a vexing environmental problem in other parts of Vermont.

Goodkind says Crombie brings experience and management skills to the state job.

(Goodkind) “I think he’s the right person to go into a large agency to try to understand it and then try to set a vision. And then I think he has the wherewithal to pull it off.”

(Dillon) The Agency of Natural Resources has 600 employees and oversees programs ranging from deer hunting to hazardous waste. There’s been quite a bit of turnover at the top. Crombie is the third secretary of ANR in four years.

The 58-year-old Crombie says the biggest challenge facing the agency is to move away from a strict regulatory regime – what he calls controlling pollution at the end of the pipe – to a more holistic approach.

(Crombie) “I think the next decade we’re really going to be looking at inclusiveness of everyone involved in the environment, using good sound. science and really a sensitivity and a passion for what we’re doing – bringing all of the pieces of environmental projection together.”

(Dillon) Vermont environmentalists had a generally positive reaction to the appointment.

Paul Burns directs the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. He worked for a citizens group in the 1990s in Massachusetts and knew Crombie as a state environmental official in Governor William Weld’s Administration. Burns said officials there had a good relationship with environmentalists.

(Burns) “When we did not see eye to eye we could at least get a straight answer from them. So I look forward to this as being possibly a sign that the administration might be open to some new ideas and new approaches to some of the really important issues that we face here in Vermont.”

(Dillon) Burns and other environmentalists say they want to see more leadership at the agency on climate change issues.

Governor Douglas said he wants Crombie to apply his management expertise to complete a restructuring of the organization.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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