Leah Feldon, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality will lead the agency following the departure of former Director Richard Whitman this week.
Feldon was named interim director at a Friday meeting of the Environmental Quality Commission by its five governor-appointed members. The commission oversees the environmental quality department.
Feldon has worked at the department for 17 years, primarily in its Office of Compliance and Enforcement. She’s spent the last six years as deputy director to Whitman, who has led the agency since 2016. Feldon’s first official day on the job will be Sept. 30. She’ll lead the agency’s 700 employees working on state and federal programs to protect the health of Oregon’s air, water and land, and manage a biennial budget of $540 million.
In June, Whitman announced he would retire at year’s end, but instead resigned three months early on Sept. 17. DEQ employees were made aware of the early resignation on Wednesday. He is leaving early for personal reasons, according to agency spokesman Harry Esteve.
The commission has hired a consulting firm that is in the midst of a nationwide search for its next permanent director.
Kathleen George, chair of the commission, said in a statement that she has complete confidence in Feldon’s ability to lead DEQ.
“She has a wealth of experience and has been a steady and critical partner in setting DEQ’s course since she was named deputy director in 2016,” George said.
Feldon is a graduate of the University of Dayton, a private college in Ohio, and Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology at Dayton in 2,000 and a law degree in environmental sciences and natural resources from Lewis & Clark in 2,004. She began working at DEQ shortly after graduating with her law degree.
“I am honored and excited to take on this role as we search for a director,” Feldon said in a statement. “DEQ is a great agency with a lot of talented people who care deeply about Oregon’s environment. I look forward to carrying on this critically important work.”
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Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.