Retired Republican state Sen. Don Benton of Vancouver has been chosen by the Donald Trump administration to lead a small group that will help reshape the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Benton and Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, will lead an EPA “beachhead team,” 120-day appointments given largely to groups of Trump campaign loyalists and aides, “who served on the so-called landing teams at various agencies between Election Day and Inauguration Day,” reported E&E News.
When The Columbian called for comment, Benton hung up. Ericksen didn’t respond for comment before press time.
The jobs are temporary, but some officials may be allowed to stay on longer.
The Seattle Times reported that Benton will be senior White House adviser supervising the EPA transition. It also reported that Ericksen will serve as communication director during the transition.
Some environmental groups in the state decried the appointments, saying they reflect the Trump administration’s plans to put environmental issues at the bottom of its priorities.
“It’s hard to imagine two lawmakers less qualified to be put in charge of environmental protection in the Pacific Northwest than Don Benton and Doug Ericksen,” said Cesia Kearns, deputy regional director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.
The Washington Conservation Voters gave Benton a lifetime score of 26 percent before he left office. Ericksen’s score is 6 percent.
“It’s disappointing to see the new administration continue to choose ardent opponents of the agencies they would run,” Shannon Murphy, president of Washington Conservation Voters, said. “Senator Ericksen and Benton’s environmental records speak for themselves. They are both climate deniers who have consistently voted against protecting clean air and water for communities across the state.”
Initially, Benton managed Trump’s campaign in Washington. Following the Republican National Convention, his territory was expanded to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Alaska and Hawaii.
In the months leading up to the election, Benton boasted of his relationship with Trump and spoke at a Trump rally in Everett.
In 2013, Benton was appointed director of the Clark County Department of Environmental Services. The move was criticized as a political favor by then-County Councilors David Madore and Tom Mielke.
Last year, Benton announced he would not seek re-election to the state Senate after 22 years in office in order to focus on running the county department, but the department was dissolved in May and Benton lost that job. His Senate term officially ended earlier this month.
Benton is now suing the county for $2 million in damages and attorney fees.