Under the careful watch of environmental activists and diversity advocates in an election year, Gov. Phil Murphy will now consider candidates to replace Catherine McCabe as the next New Jersey Commissioner of Environmental Protection.
Murphy announced this morning that McCabe is retiring and will leave the cabinet on January 15.
Shawn LaTourette, the current deputy commissioner and chief of staff, appears to have the inside track to replace McCabe, several insiders said.
Murphy had his pick of several Obama administration officials after he was elected in 2017 and was able to recruit McCabe, a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acting administrator, to come to New Jersey and join his administration.
With President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team preparing to fill key environmental posts at the EPA and other federal agencies, Murphy’s options of picking an outsider are more limited.
LaTourette has been McCabe’s number two and effectively managing the department on a day to day basis. He joined the Murphy administration as chief counsel at the DEP after working in the environmental law practice at Gibbons. LaTourette also chaired the LGBT Rights Section of the New Jersey Bar Association for four years.
Sources said that Murphy will also likely consider Olivia Glenn, the deputy DEP commissioner for Environmental Justice and Equity.
Glenn has degrees from Dartmouth and Yale and worked as the Urban Initiatives and Outreach coordinator at the DEP under previous Democratic governors before Murphy recruited her to serve as director of the state Division of Parks and Forestry.
Murphy’s search could include Lisa Garcia, a former Obama administration official who served a senior advisor to the EPA Administrator for Environmental Justice.
A former Assistant New York Attorney General and Chief Advocate for Environmental Justice and Equity at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Garcia currently works at Earthjustice as vice president for litigation.
Other potential candidates might be two other Obama administration veterans: Al Armendariz, a former EPA Region 6 Administrator; and Jim Lyons, who served as Deputy Assistant U.S. Secretary of the Interior and Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and Environment.
In a statement, Murphy praised McCabe’s service as New Jersey’s top environmental regulatory official.
“Through Catherine’s leadership, our Administration has advanced critical initiatives to protect the environment and public health for future generations,” Murphy said. “From helping to enact New Jersey’s first-in-the-nation environmental justice law to reigniting the State’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of climate change, Commissioner McCabe has restored the Department to its rightful place as a national leader in environmental protection.”
But Murphy’s statement omitted any mention of the Newark drinking water crisis that put McCabe on the front lines of a controversy that has largely been replaced by COVID-19.
LaTourette was the major player in a plan to fund the replacement of lead water pipes in Newark.
New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel said he had high hopes for McCabe when she came to New Jersey after holding high-level posts at the EPA.
“In the end we were disappointed because she didn’t make changes we needed,” Tittle said.