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Environmentalists embrace the change at the top


Environmentalists are welcoming the change at the top of Maryland Department of the Environment.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced yesterday that former Baltimore planner Robert Perciasepe will become environment secretary.

State environmentalists have long complained about Martin Walsh, the departing department head.

"I think it's a good move," said Joan Willey, state conservation chairwoman for the Sierra Club, who had complained just a few weeks ago while endorsing Schaefer's re-election that Walsh was "no friend" of the environment.

Walsh, the agency's only secretary since the department was created in 1987, will move over to head the Department of General Services with the departure of Earl F. Seboda.

The moves are the latest in Schaefer's Cabinet reorganization, an effort he had said he would undertake three weeks ago when he ordered his entire Cabinet and hundreds of top appointed officials to submit letters of resignation.

Walsh's tenure as secretary has been marked by controversy. While Schaefer has won over environmentalists who four years ago doubted his commitment to saving Chesapeake Bay, they have complained that Walsh was slow to act on some problems, such as toxic pollution of the bay and dioxin contamination of fish in the Potomac River. They also contended that he undermined his agency's effectiveness with an abrasive management style.

Turnover in the department was high, with the departure of many of the agency's middle managers regulating water pollution, hazardous waste and trash disposal. Complaints from inside and outside the department reached such a pitch that Schaefer even called Walsh in to counsel him nearly two years ago.

But, as he has before, Schaefer defended Walsh, saying he did well as head of the Environment Department. He said he is moving him to General Services because he has a background in engineering and "now it's time for him to move over to become head of construction."

Schaefer denied reports that he had forced the departure of Seboda, who was a carry-over from the previous administration, that of Harry R. Hughes.

"The department head submitted the resignation," Schaefer said. "I accepted the resignation." He offered few other details except to say that Seboda would retire from state service.

Schaefer said he had not been "exactly, totally satisfied" with the way the General Services chief oversaw some capital projects.

Perciasepe served for 12 years in Schaefer's mayoral administration in Baltimore. He went to the Environment Department in 1987 as assistant secretary of planning and capital programs, then became deputy secretary under Walsh more than a year ago.

Perciasepe said last night that his first priority is "to keep the department going in the positive direction it's been going."

"I think Marty's left me a good ship," Perciasepe said, citing major increases in funding for municipal sewage plant upgrades as just one example of progress. Perciasepe said his challenge is to continue efforts to clean up the bay and reduce air pollution in the face of government spending cutbacks.

Seboda is the second Cabinet secretary to leave the Schaefer administration since the changeover began. He follows Richard H. Trainor, who announced his retirement earlier this month.

Schaefer said he also plans some additional changes in his Cabinet and staff, but would not elaborate.

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