Doug Benevento, a longtime figure in Colorado Republican politics and former director of the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment, has been tapped to serve as the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8.
On Thursday, a news release announced that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appointed Benevento to oversee Region 8, which consists of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming.
The position was left vacant after Region 8 Administrator Shaun McGrath, known locally for his response to the August 2015 Gold King Mine spill, left the agency in January. McGrath was an Obama-era appointee.
In the interim, Deb Thomas served as the acting regional administrator.
Benevento served as executive director of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment in the early 2000s. Since 2010, he has worked on energy and environmental issues in the private sector at Xcel Energy, the announcement said.
Benevento is probably most recognized for his time as a controversial representative on the Douglas County School District Board of Education, to which he was elected in 2009.
During that time, Benevento and three other conservative school board members attempted to set a national model for conservative reforms to public education, setting up a voucher system to provide taxpayer money to students attending private or religious schools.
The Colorado Supreme Court ruled the voucher program unconstitutional in 2015. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court said the Colorado Supreme Court must revisit this decision.
Benevento was also the driving force behind the board’s decision to end a collective-bargaining contract with the teachers union and institute a pay-for-performance system.
Benevento resigned in August 2016, more than a year before his term was set to expire in 2017.
The EPA announcement said Benevento has spent “much of his career working to protect the environment.”
Attempts to contact the CDPHE were not immediately successful Thursday afternoon.
McGrath told The Durango Herald on Thursday that he has worked with Benevento on environmental issues in the past and believes he has the skills and experience to be successful as Region 8 administrator.
“My concern is not with Doug. My concern is the person he’s working for (Pruitt),” McGrath said. “Pruitt has demonstrated very consistently he does not follow the science, and he consistently puts the interest of the fossil fuel industry ahead of public health and the environment.
“And the mission of the EPA is to protect public health and the environment.”
McGrath said he hopes Benevento, who works for Xcel, a relatively progressive energy company that is taking steps to curtail climate change, can get Pruitt to do the same.
Pruitt said in a prepared statement that: “Doug Benevento’s personal connection to the Rocky Mountain state and experience working with environmental leaders across the region will greatly benefit the agency’s mission in protecting the environment in Region 8.”
Gov. John Hickenlooper, too, said in a prepared statement: “Benevento has an extensive background working on important environmental issues in the state of Colorado.”
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo. said: “I look forward to working with Doug to make the communities whole in Southwest Colorado that were impacted by the EPA-born Gold King Mine spill, ensuring the expeditious cleanup of Colorado’s Superfund sites remain a top priority for the EPA and protecting Colorado’s environment across all four corners of the state.”