The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality's executive director, Mark Vickery, will retire after 25 years in state government, the agency announced today. While he is scheduled to depart in May, Vickery has said he will remain at the agency long enough to allow for a smooth transition.
“It has been my honor to work for the people of this great state for more than a quarter-century, but now it’s time for me and my family to explore new opportunities and start writing the next chapter of our lives,” Vickery said. “Texas is a better place because of the tremendous work being done each and every day to vigorously protect the environment using sound science and common sense.”
Vickery became the executive director of the TCEQ in 2008. The agency’s drought relief projects were among the most rewarding initiatives that Vickery worked on during his career, said TCEQ spokesman Andy Saenz. Vickery was also proud of the agency’s early efforts to reduce its budget and reallocate funds in response to decreased funding from the Texas Legislature.
But Vickery's tenure was not without trouble. In 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a reprimand to the TCEQ for not meeting federal Clean Air Act requirements in its clean air permitting program.
He was also the head of the TCEQ when the agency determined that the refineries of the Valero Energy Corporation did not meet requirements for a requested environmental tax exemption worth up to $130 million.
“Mark’s knowledge and experience in environmental issues is second to none,” said TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw. “We’ve relied on that experience for decades as Mark guided this agency through some of the most challenging environmental issues this state has ever faced.”
Cyrus Reed, conservation director for the Texas Sierra Club, said that while Vickery’s knowledge and professionalism will be a loss, major policy changes are not likely to result from his retirement.
“He was accessible and open to input from different stakeholders,” Reed said. “There [will] be a loss of institutional knowledge, but in terms of policy, I don’t think it will make a big difference, because he took his cues from the chairman and other commissioners.”
Vickery’s successor has not yet been selected, Saenz said. The new executive director will be hired by the agency's commissioners, and will be in charge of the TCEQ’s day-to-day operations. The director’s responsibilities include implementing commission policies, directing 17 statewide offices, approving uncontested permits, and making recommendations to agency commissioners about contested permit and enforcement issues.
“We felt Mr. Vickery did a good job and was a good public servant,” said David Weinberg, executive director of the Texas League of Conservation Voters. “We’re concerned about the deep budget cuts to the agency. They had to lay off a lot of people [last year]. I would think any executive director coming in would be hamstrung by that.”