The state Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon, whose agency has stymied two major Cowlitz County industrial projects, announced Monday that she will step down at the end of this year.
“Arriving at this choice has been bittersweet, but I’m confident that it’s the right time for me to make a professional and personal change,” Bellon said in a prepared statement. She’s been Ecology’s director since Gov. Jay Inslee appointed her to the post in 2013.
Bellon was unavailable Thursday to talk to TDN reporters.
She has headed the state agency during most of the permitting processes for the Millennium Bulk Terminal coal export facility proposed in Longview and the Northwest Innovation Works methanol plant proposed in Kalama.
Under Bellon’s leadership, Ecology in 2017 denied a key water quality permit for the coal terminal. The company, which first submitted applications for the project in 2012, appealed the decision. It has been unsuccessful in overturning the denial so far, and the project has been tied up in litigation for nearly three years.
Also during Bellon’s leadership, Ecology prolonged the permitting process for the Kalama methanol plant. It recently rejected a greenhouse analysis for the project done by Cowlitz County and the Port of Kalama, and Bellon ordered her own agency to do the study itself. The decision may delay a ruling on a key permit for the project for a year.
Many Cowlitz County officials have expressed frustration with Ecology’s decisions for these projects, and several local legislators, commissioners and city council members staged a protest against the agency early in 2018, shortly after Ecology denied the Millennium permit.
Just last month, state Sen. Dean Takko, a Longview democrat, said the way Ecology has managed the permitting process for the methanol plant was “a cowardly swipe at our ambition to bring prosperity back to Southwest Washington.” (Combined, the methanol plant and coal terminal would create more than 300 family-wage jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenue, according to proponents of the projects.)
However, Gov. Jay Inslee commended Bellon for being a “resolute leader who has made decisions based on science and data.”
“The work she has done at the Department of Ecology will benefit Washingtonians for generations to come,” Inslee said in a prepared statement Monday. “While she will be greatly missed, I know that whatever challenges Maia takes on next will be met with the same dedication and passion she has brought to state service.”
Before becoming Ecology’s director, Bellon served as deputy and then manager of the agency’s water resources program. She also spent 15 years as assistant attorney general. She holds a law degree from the Arizona State University College of Law.
“My current plans are to enjoy some time off reconnecting with my family and friends,” Bellon said in her Monday statement. “Then I intend to dust off my law degree and try my hand at private practice focusing on environmental law and policy.”
The Ecology director serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet, so Inslee is responsible for appointing Bellon’s replacement. A spokeswoman with Ecology said the agency expects Inslee to announce his plans to replace Bellon, whether with an acting director or a permanent appointment, before January.