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President Biden appoints Montgomery County official to powerful EPA position

Adam Ortiz, Director of Environmental Quality for Montgomery County, will be a Regional Administrator for the EPA.
Credit: AP
FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2019 file photo, watermen dredge for oysters on the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland near Ridge, Md. A lawsuit filed Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, by the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others, is claiming that the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to ensure that Pennsylvania and New York are doing enough to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. Attorneys general from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia say they’ve filed a similar lawsuit. (AP Photo/Brian Witte, File)

WHEATON-GLENMONT, Md. — He describes himself first as a "lefty" on his Twitter account. It's not just because he's left-handed.

For the past three years, Adam Ortiz has led Montgomery County's Department of Environmental Protection. In the six preceding years, he held the same job and received high acclaim in Prince George's County.

Now, Ortiz moves from leading a county agency with a $140 million dollar budget to an enormous federal agency, the EPA, which manages $11 billion in taxpayer funds. 

President Biden appointed Ortiz Regional Administrator of the EPA for Region 3 which includes Maryland, Virginia, DC, West Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania -- all states crucial to the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

"There's major challenges before us," said Ortiz. "Do you try to step up and resolve those challenges and find solutions? To do that, it requires some innovation. And also taking some risks. So as a "lefty" my job is to try and solve those problems and come up with ideas."

"But at the same time," he added, "I'm very much a pragmatist and have always worked with the business community, with municipalities and cities to make sure that we make change but we bring everybody along with us."  

Ortiz tells WUSA9 he's proud of the work accomplished under his watch and he's determined to see through another major initiative Montgomery County leaders are considering.

"Already we've been able to put forward bills limiting the amount of bad plastics that are in the environment, plastics that are not recyclable.  We've done a lot of work on improving recycling and reducing contamination of recycling," explained Ortiz. "But right now we have a big bill in front of the Council to make existing buildings more energy-efficient. And that will be the first in the nation of a county to do that." 

Read about the proposed Montgomery County legislation HERE. Ortiz says it's possible Council could consider the proposal later this month. 

There is a widening gulf between the environmental policies and priorities of each political party. 

I asked Ortiz about the current administration's commitment to environmental policies juxtaposed against that of the administration under President Trump. 

"There's no question that climate change is a top priority for President Biden and Vice President Harris and it's (an issue) that's back on top," said Ortiz. 

"We've had severe weather events where we've seen loss of life and certainly lots of property damage. Unfortunately, we've fallen behind on everything from controlling greenhouse gas emissions to being able to be more resilient in storms and flooding. And also cleaning our energy grid to make sure we're getting clean energy instead of dirty sources."

As an EPA regional administrator, Ortiz and his staff will also be at the helm of decision-making for millions of dollars in federal grants.  

"It's my job to help oversee the laws that Congress and Presidents in the past have already put into place to make sure that all of our air, land and water is clean and healthy," Ortiz said.

In September of 2020, DC, Maryland, Virginia and Delaware filed a federal lawsuit against the EPA for failing to hold New York and Pennsylvania responsible for not meeting pollution reduction goals established as part of the Clean Water Act. 

There has been no movement on the lawsuit or a shift in announced policy since the Biden Administration took office. 

"This is a critical moment for EPA and the Chesapeake Bay. While most jurisdictions have plans to achieve their pollution-reduction goals, Pennsylvania does not," said Alison Prost of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in a statement. 

"Mr. Ortiz must use his experience and creativity to turn plans into action by marshaling the federal resources needed while also using EPA’s authorities to hold them accountable," said Prost. "He must also help to restore the transparency necessary to determine where jurisdictions are succeeding, as well as where they are falling short."  

"Some states have made a lot of progress and some counties have made a lot of progress and some have fallen behind. So our job is to help them get up to speed. Whether that's incentives or some kind of compliance, we'll figure that out," said Ortiz while discussing the health of the Chesapeake Bay in general.

One policy area Ortiz is watching closely is the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

"Hopefully that'll get passed and we can get more resources into places like this to make sure we're more resilient and more ready for an environmentally conscious future," he said.

Ortiz says he plans to make sure his office, based in Philadelphia, will tap into the knowledge base and innovation happening in the mid-Atlantic area

"I want to make sure we create a forum to share ideas because all of us are facing the same challenges with climate change and energy usage and resource management," he said.


WATCH NEXT: Maryland sets limits on rockfish bass fishing in the Chesapeake Bay

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