Senators praise latest pick to lead DHEC as the right choice

Catherine Heigel

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Senators say the board of South Carolina’s public health and environmental agency got it right this time in selecting a director.

The Senate Medical Affairs Committee on Thursday advanced the confirmation of Greenville attorney Catherine Heigel, a former Duke Energy executive, as director of the Department of Health and Environmental Control. The unanimous vote followed 15 minutes of glowing comments on her selection.

“You may be a lady for all seasons, and I strongly recommend your confirmation,” said Senate Education Chairman John Courson, R-Columbia.

It was a striking difference from the committee’s tough questioning in February of Eleanor Kitzman, Gov. Nikki Haley’s last pick for the position. The governor’s longtime friend withdrew from the process before the committee’s scheduled second day of questioning.

“What a difference a nominee makes,” said Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Columbia. “I would like to commend the DHEC board.”

While the board officially chooses the agency’s leader, Haley appoints the entire board. Kitzman was the lone candidate considered in January after Haley gave her name to board Chairman Allen Amsler. The board took applications after Kitzman withdrew. Amsler says Heigel was chosen from among 99 people who applied.

Senators said Heigel’s experience represents a good balance between business, consumer and environmental interests.

Heigel began her career in 1995 as an attorney with the state Department of Consumer Affairs.

She joined Duke Energy in 1997 and was president of the utility’s South Carolina operations from March 2010 to June 2012. Now an attorney with Elliot Davis Decosimo, she is currently on the board of the Nature Conservancy’s state chapter, as well as the board of state-owned utility Santee Cooper. She said Thursday she will resign both board positions upon confirmation.

Heigel is also a board member of the Original Six Foundation, Haley’s nonprofit organization. Heigel said she had not considered applying for the DHEC job but was approached about doing so. She declined to say by whom.

She described her leadership style as collaborative.

“You want everyone to feel like they’ve had a voice and been heard. You can come and have disagreements, but you can do it without being disagreeable, and that’s important,” she said after the meeting.

Heigel said she has no financial interests in Duke Energy and no conflict of interest as defined by law but would recuse herself if anything comes up that would give an appearance of impropriety.

Ann Timberlake, director of Conservation Voters of South Carolina, applauded Heigel’s selection. She said she’s worked with Heigel on energy efficiency issues.

“She listened, and we thought she was very competent,” Timberlake said. “We appreciate that she understands the intersection between a healthy environment for our water, our air and clean energy.”

Senators’ only question to Heigel involved her residency. Heigel said she will continue to live in Greenville and commute to Columbia. Her predecessor, Catherine Templeton, retained her home in Charleston County during her tenure.

Heigel’s confirmation awaits a vote by the full Senate, which could sail through by month’s end. Templeton resigned in January after nearly three years in the job.