Park lecture to focus on secessionist Ruffin

Rick Hatcher

Columbia -- Nearly 250 people have applied to be the next chief at the state's environmental protection agency as the search for top candidates has expanded.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control board began a second round of advertisements last month after determining that the first crop of job-seekers wasn't adequate.

"We didn't have a lot of outstanding applicants, and we're trying to broaden the field and get the best person we can," search committee member Clarence Batts said this week. "The process isn't closed until we select the finalists and do face-to-face interviews."

DHEC's next commissioner will replace Earl Hunter, who resigned in September with little explanation for his departure. The DHEC board, installed after Gov. Nikki Haley took office in January, has said little publicly about the type of person it wants to replace Hunter.

Board members hope to hire someone by February, they said.

The selection of DHEC's next commissioner is being watched anxiously by environmentalists worried about Haley's plan for the agency. Haley, elected last year on a jobs agenda, has made no secret about her desire to make the department more accommodating to businesses that need environmental and health permits.

DHEC, one of South Carolina's largest agencies, has a wide-ranging mission, including public health and environmental protection. The department, among other things, considers permits for industries to release pollution, monitors water and air quality, oversees landfills, licenses tattoo parlors and regulates hospital expansions.

The commissioner sets the tone for how the agency administers such programs.

"This is the most important decision the DHEC board will make, whom to hire as director," said Dana Beach, executive director of the Coastal Conserevation League, noting concerns about how Haley's pro-business push will affect environmental protection.

"The governor is promoting an anti-regulatory agenda, and her board chairman has talked about the need to expedite and remove the burden from the applicant."

The search committee met this week and is in the process of whittling down the field of candidates, Batts said. He declined to say who applied.