Friday, January 23, 2004

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday appointed Kendl Philbrick as state environment secretary, hoping Democrats in the Senate will not reject his nomination as they did a year ago to the Republican governor’s first choice, Lynn Buhl.

Sen. Brian E. Frosh, Montgomery Democrat, who played a key role in defeating the Buhl nomination, said Mr. Philbrick will have to answer important questions “on where he stands and on the direction this agency is going to go.”

Mr. Philbrick, a former Lockheed-Martin lawyer, was supposed to be Miss Buhl’s deputy, but was appointed acting secretary after the Senate rejected her nomination in March.

Neither Mr. Frosh nor representatives of environmental groups are taking the hard-line stance against Mr. Philbrick that they did against Miss Buhl.

“We’re going to be monitoring the Senate process and encourage the Senate to take a long look at the nominee’s credentials and what actions have occurred under his watch” at the Department of the Environment, said Sue Brown, director of the League of Conservation Voters.

But the league has not taken a position on Mr. Philbrick’s appointment.

“I just encourage the Senate to take a close look. It’s an important position,” Miss Brown said.

Environmentalists would still like someone with stronger pro-environment credentials, but there doesn’t seem to be much will to work actively and openly against his appointment as there was with Miss Buhl.

“We are ready to move beyond this,” said Theresa Pierno, vice president of environmental protection for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “We need to focus our energies this session on some really important legislation.”

That includes Mr. Ehrlich’s proposal to increase monthly sewage fees by $2.50 to raise money to upgrade sewage-treatment plants to reduce nitrogen pollution in the Bay.

Mr. Philbrick, meanwhile, has worked since last summer to improve relations with environmentalists. Speaking at an environmental summit last week, he pledged he would work with environmental groups to improve Bay water quality.

“Let us all begin to work together, rather than at odds. Instead of picking each other apart, let’s work together to clean up the Chesapeake Bay,” he said.

Mr. Philbrick said yesterday that he thinks his prospects of being confirmed are good. “I made a very concerted effort to get over a reputation I didn’t deserve.”

Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese DeLeaver said the governor is confident Mr. Philbrick “is the best candidate to advance his environmental agenda” and believes he will be confirmed by the Senate.

“He has made impressive strides on both sides of the aisle over the past few months,” Miss DeLeaver said.

The next step for Mr. Philbrick will be a hearing before the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, but no date has been set.

Mr. Frosh said he talked recently with Mr. Philbrick.

“I told him, I want to know what you’re going to do and where you’re going to go. He said, ‘Fine,’” Mr. Frosh said.

“We want to make sure he’s going to be a steward of the environment and a protector of the Bay.”

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