Columbia -- South Carolina labor chief Catherine Templeton is among three finalists to run the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, a sprawling agency that faces change under Gov. Nikki Haley.

Templeton, longtime DHEC health regulator Pam Dukes and retired Upstate hospital executive Ingo Angermeier will be interviewed later this month for the post being vacated by Earl Hunter.

The DHEC board chose them over about 250 other candidates for the agency's top position, which will pay up to $184,000. Agency officials hope to have a new commissioner on board before spring.

"We've got a real nice cross-section" of candidates, said Mark Lutz, vice-chairman of the agency's board and a member of the commissioner search committee.

Whoever is chosen will represent a departure for DHEC. The past three commissioners have been agency lobbyists. If Templeton or Dukes is chosen, it also would mark the first time a woman has held DHEC's highest-ranking job.

DHEC, among the state's largest departments with about 4,500 employees, has a wide-ranging mission. It oversees everything from hospital expansions and public health to water quality in the state's rivers. The agency also considers air, water and waste disposal permits needed by industries.

The department is frequently embroiled in disputes over whether to issue environmental permits. Since her election in 2010, Haley has been vocal in wanting DHEC to be more business friendly, an effort that has rankled environmentalists.

Supporters describe Templeton as a tough-minded attorney.

Templeton questioned whether some services DHEC provides duplicate services from other departments, particularly health agencies.

"I think there is a lot of mission creep," the 41-year-old Mount Pleasant resident said.

A mother of three who grew up in Irmo, Templeton is a Wofford College graduate with a law degree from the University of South Carolina. She has been caught up in several controversies at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, including laying off about four dozen workers and being sued.

She also has drawn scrutiny because she never moved to Columbia from Mount Pleasant.

Dukes, 51, is a 27-year DHEC employee praised for her ability to work with various interest groups. A graduate of Georgia State University, Dukes began working at DHEC in 1985 as a physicist and chemist.

Angermeier, a native of Germany and father of seven, is the former chief executive of the Spartanburg Regional Health Care System. He has experience running health care facilities across the country. He has a doctorate from the University of South Carolina and a master's degree from the University of Minnesota.