- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

DOVER, Del. (AP) - Delaware’s environmental secretary is resigning his post to lead the National Wildlife Federation.

Collin O'Mara confirmed Thursday that he will leave the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control in July to become president and CEO of the country’s oldest and largest conservation organization. He will succeed Larry Schweiger, who is retiring Friday.

The Reston, Virginia-based federation announced O'Mara’s appointment Wednesday night at its annual Conservation Achievement Awards gala in Washington, D.C.

O'Mara said in an interview Thursday that the federation has been able to bring together people with diverse interests, from hunters to birders, to drive nationwide change at a time of partisan gridlock in Washington.

“Having some Delaware common sense brought to a grassroots national effort seemed to be an attractive opportunity that I couldn’t pass up,” said O'Mara, adding that he did not apply for the NWF post but was recruited by the federation through a headhunter.

Collin is a tireless leader with a deep understanding of conservation issues and a strong, entrepreneurial spirit,” NWF board chair Deborah Spalding said in a prepared statement. “His track record in implementing innovative solutions to conservation challenges and his experience in managing large, complex organizations with a diverse stakeholder base are key skills that will be critical in taking the federation forward in the coming years.”

O’Mara, 35, was tapped by Gov. Jack Markell to lead Delaware’s environmental agency in 2009, making him the youngest state cabinet official in the nation at the time. He previously served as “clean tech strategist” for the city of San Jose, California. He also worked for his hometown of Syracuse, New York, overseeing the city’s performance management and accountability program.

Collin’s leadership has helped make Delaware a nationally recognized leader in energy and climate change policies,” Markell said in a prepared statement. “While we will be sad to see him leave the administration, the National Wildlife Federation has made a great choice for its next leader.”

O'Mara’s departure comes as the Markell administration is pushing for a statewide water tax to fund an accelerated effort to clean up Delaware’s polluted waterways, the vast majority of which are subject to fishing and swimming advisories. But the election-year tax proposal is having trouble gaining traction among lawmakers, including Markell’s fellow Democrats, and O'Mara said the federation agreed to allow him to continue working on the clean-water initiative during the current legislative session.

“I specifically asked for a two-month delay in my start date to try to give it the best possible shot we could.” he said, adding that a bill will be introduced in the next week or so. “We’re going to make a strong push and see how far we can get,” he said.

O'Mara’s accomplishments as environmental secretary include leading efforts to reduce air emissions from power plants, helping implement statewide curbside recycling, strengthening regulations governing stormwater management and onsite wastewater systems, and leading a statewide effort to improve Delaware’s preparedness for extreme storms, sea level rise, and other climate-related challenges.

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