New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) said Monday she has selected a former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official as secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED).
James Kenney until recently was a senior policy adviser for oil and natural gas at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. He will have an official start date, as secretary-designate, after his hiring paperwork is processed, NMED General Counsel Jennifer Hower said by email Tuesday. As secretary-designate, Kenney can fulfill all duties of the position.
“He will be required to be confirmed by the [state] Senate, which will hopefully occur this legislative session,” Hower added. The New Mexico Legislature starts its regular session on the third Tuesday of January during odd-number years, which this year is Jan. 15.
In addition to enforcing pollution laws, NMED regulates hazardous waste and radiation sources at U.S. Department of Energy sites in New Mexico, including the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.
Kenney would succeed Butch Tongate, a longtime NMED employee who became secretary in 2016. Tongate retired from state service on Dec. 31, days after he approved a policy change sought by DOE to revise the way the state agency records transuranic waste volume at WIPP. Starting later this month, the Energy Department will no longer count empty spaces and filler material between container drums as waste.
It is not known yet if Kenney will review the WIPP order. “There will be citizen pressure for him to do so,” Jay Coghlan, director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said in a Tuesday email.
Kenney served more than 20 years total, compiled in stints, in engineering and program management jobs at EPA, based out of Washington, Philadelphia, and Denver.
Kenney spent more than a year away from EPA in the private sector, from October 2008 through December 2009, as a senior environmental engineer at McCoy and Associates in Colorado, according to his LinkedIn profile. He also worked as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Justice.