COLUMBIA — A former energy company executive has been tapped to be the next chief of South Carolina’s agency overseeing health and environmental regulations.
Catherine Heigel, past president of Duke Energy South Carolina, was selected Friday to lead the Department of Health and Environmental Control, one of the state’s largest agencies and one with wide-ranging responsibilities. DHEC monitors infectious diseases, gives food safety grades and enforces environmental laws.
Heigel was selected from a pool of 99 applicants for the job, which will pay about $155,000 a year, an agency spokeswoman said. The agency’s board voted unanimously to appoint her.
Her name now heads to the governor’s office for approval and then to the state Senate for confirmation.
In a statement Heigel gave to the board, she said her experience with utilities gave her a deep familiarity with environmental regulations.
“The electric utility industry has a significant impact on the environment, and, accordingly, is subject to substantial environmental regulation at both the state and federal level,” Heigel wrote. “Throughout my career, I have had to address myriad issues flowing from this regulation.”
Heigel, of Greenville, is general counsel of Elliott Davis Decosimo, one of the Southeast’s largest accounting firms, and spent 11 years at Duke Energy, the nation’s largest power company. She serves on the boards of state-owned power company Santee Cooper and Gov. Nikki Haley’s charitable foundation, and was previously on the board of the Nature Conservancy’s state chapter.
Heigel’s selection by the DHEC board marks the latest chapter in the months-long saga of finding the agency’s next head.
A week after former director Catherine Templeton resigned in January after three years as the head of DHEC, the board named a successor, Eleanor Kitzman, a longtime friend of Haley.
Kitzman had run the state’s Budget and Control Board and its Department of Insurance, but moved out of the state in 2011 to head up the Texas Department of Insurance, appointed by then-Gov. Rick Perry. She left the job two years later after Democrats raised questions about her insurance industry ties and state senators in Texas refused to confirm her.
Earlier this year, she faced another tough confirmation fight. This time, South Carolina senators asked about her ties to Haley and about the application and selection process. The DHEC board appointed her on Haley’s recommendation, and an agency spokeswoman said they didn’t consider other candidates.
While she awaited confirmation, Kitzman worked in a $74-an-hour management position DHEC created for her.
Her appointment was opposed by environmental groups, including the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, and senators like Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, who chairs the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee. They criticized her lack of medical and environmental experience.
She was grilled on her first day of Senate hearings in February, as senators asked her about a fundraiser she’d attended for Haley and questioned whether her relationship with the governor helped her land the job
Kitzman bowed out a few days later before returning for more questioning. “I know from recent personal experience how this scenario plays out,” she wrote in a letter to the agency’s board.
Heigel also has ties to Haley. She’s the board secretary of Haley’s Original Six Foundation, which aims to improve education and quality of life in the state’s poorest communities, and she’s served on the board since 2011.
Campaign records show that Heigel has given in recent years to a mix of Republican and Democratic candidates. She gave $1,000 in 2013 to Haley’s re-election campaign, but also gave $1,000 in 2010 to her Democratic challenger, state Sen. Vincent Sheheen.