Biden taps Montgomery County Environmental Chief Ortiz for key EPA post

Adam Ortiz, the director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, will become a regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Courtesy Montgomery County)

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The Biden administration has turned to an experienced Maryland policy and political hand to fill a key environmental position.

The White House announced Tuesday that Adam Ortiz will become the administrator of the agency’s Region 3 office, which is based in Philadelphia and oversees EPA activities in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington, D.C., and works with seven federally recognized Native American tribes. The EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program Office is also housed within the Region 3 operation.

Ortiz, director of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection, is one of 14 individuals appointed to regional leadership posts in the Biden administration on Tuesday.

“These regional appointees will be critical to the President’s efforts to rebuild communities most impacted by the pandemic, the economic recovery, and climate change,” the White House said in a statement. “They bring deep expertise in their issue areas as well as critical relationships with federal, state, tribal, and local leaders. And, consistent with the President’s commitment to building an administration that looks like America, these regional appointees represent the diversity of American and the communities they serve.”

Ortiz has served as Montgomery’s environmental chief since shortly after County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) took office, heading a $140 million agency with 300 workers and contractors. The department oversees programs for recycling and resource management, watershed restoration, greenhouse gas reduction, renewable energy, sustainability, and environmental compliance.

Prior to joining Montgomery County in 2019, Ortiz held a similar position at the Prince George’s County Department of Environment from 2012 through 2018, where he oversaw stormwater management, recycling, waste management, animal services, and sustainability programs. While in Prince George’s he launched several initiatives, including the largest municipal organics composting facility in the country, a $100 million public-private partnership for green infrastructure focusing on small and local business development, and various partnerships with faith, nonprofit, and business sectors.

Ortiz also worked in the administration of former Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (D) from 2007 to 2012, serving as deputy chief of staff for then-Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D), and as a special assistant to secretary Tom Perez at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Ortiz has been active in local politics, serving three terms as mayor of Edmonston in Prince George’s County, and is a leader in the county’s growing Latino community. Just last week, Ortiz was one of several Latino leaders who accused County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) of failing to hire a single person of Hispanic descent to an agency-level position since her election nearly three years ago.

Ortiz has also done advocacy work on equity and human rights issues, including a stint as a Soros Justice Fellow at the American Bar Association and as deputy director for Amnesty International’s Midwest office.

He is routinely mentioned as a possible top official in a state administration the next time a Democrat is elected governor, but for now he will ply his trade at the federal level in the EPA.

For most of the Trump administration, the Region 3 administrator position was held by Cosmo Servidio, who had been a regional director at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under both Republican and Democratic administrations and had been director of environmental affairs for the Bucks County Water and Sewer Authority in suburban Philadelphia. Servidio had also worked in the insurance industry and was chief of staff in the EPA Region 2 office, which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, during the second half of the George W. Bush administration.

Environmental groups and elected officials are cheering Ortiz’s appointment.

“Protecting and restoring the Chesapeake Bay is one of the highest priorities for EPA Region 3,” said Choose Clean Water Coalition Director Kristin Reilly. “Ortiz’s knowledge, experience, and dedication on clean water as a state and local government official is invaluable to meeting this objective.”

U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) noted that Ortiz once worked on the Ocean City Beach Patrol and added, “I am excited to have a Marylander who understands the iconic nature of the Chesapeake Bay at the helm of EPA Region 3.”

Alison Prost, Chesapeake Bay Foundation vice president for Environmental Protection and Restoration, called Ortiz “an excellent” choice.” But she also used his appointment as an opportunity to prod Pennsylvania, which has fallen short of its pollution reduction goals for the Bay.

“This is a critical moment for EPA and the Chesapeake Bay,” Prost said. “While most jurisdictions have plans to achieve their pollution-reduction goals, Pennsylvania does not. Mr. Ortiz must use his experience and creativity to turn plans into action by marshalling the federal resources needed while also using EPA’s authorities to hold them accountable. He must also help to restore the transparency necessary to determine where jurisdictions are succeeding, as well as where they are falling short.”

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