When Stephanie Timmermeyer listened to Gov. Bob Wise’s second
State of the State address in January, she noticed the same thing
many others did: not one mention of the word “environment.”
Timmermeyer, then the state’s chief air-pollution regulator,
wasn’t discouraged. “I don’t think that indicated any lack of
interest in environmental issues,” she said later.
Last month, Wise named Timmermeyer secretary of the state
Department of Environmental Protection. The $85,000-a-year job puts
her in charge of an agency with nearly 800 employees and a nearly
$150 million annual budget.
In the post, Timmermeyer will be the administration’s lead person
on environmental issues at an agency that is a frequent target of
criticism both from citizen groups and industry.
From where Timmermeyer sits, the Wise administration is strongly
pro-environment. The DEP, she says, is doing a good job protecting
the state’s streams, mountains and public health. Under her watch,
she hopes the agency does even better.
“Governor Wise sees, as all citizens of West Virginia do, that
where West Virginia goes from here, and West Virginia’s economic
outlook depends on our environmental health,” Timmermeyer said.
“Anyone who was in this state in the 1970s can look out the
window and see that the environment is in a lot better shape
Timmermeyer pointed out that Wise is chairman of the Natural
Resources Committee of the National Governors Association, where he
will help mold that group’s position on various Bush administration
In a recent interview, she also clarified previous comments that
neither Wise nor his staff had discussed specific environmental
issues they hoped the DEP would work on.
“On the big picture and policy issues, we do have discussions,”
First woman in charge
Timmermeyer is the first woman to serve as West Virginia’s chief
environmental regulator. And at 33, she’s also the youngest
Less than a week before Wise appointed Timmermeyer, the state’s
major environmental groups urged the governor to pick a different
candidate. They favored longtime environmental lawyer Patrick
McGinley, who has been teaching at the West Virginia University
College of Law since 1975.
Timmermeyer says she knows that her previous jobs — as an
industry consultant and, briefly, an industry lawyer — have drawn
After she graduated from law school in May 2001 and until she
joined the DEP as air quality director seven months later,
Timmermeyer worked for the Charleston-based firm Spilman Thomas and
Battle. Among other things, she represented DuPont in matters
concerning pollution of Parkersburg-area air and water with the
toxic chemical C8. At the DEP, Timmermeyer says she has recused
herself from C8 issues.
Timmermeyer said she doesn’t want to focus on her former role as
an industry advocate. “I’m sure everybody is tired of hearing about
my background,” she said.
Good in math and science
Timmermeyer grew up in Bryans Road, Md., a town of about 5,000
people south of Washington, D.C.
Both of her parents were in the military, before retiring from
the service to teach school.
Timmermeyer says she was good in math and science and influenced
by her parents’ stories of their time in the military.
So, she went off to study electrical engineering at the Coast
Guard Academy. That didn’t work out, though.
“I just felt like that wasn’t for me,” she said. “You just
basically had nine years of your life planned out for you.”
Timmermeyer says she also felt like she was missing the natural
sciences — and the outdoors. She recalled several weeks she had
spent on the Chesapeake Bay during the mid-1980s studying
agriculture’s effects on the watershed.
“We looked at the way some of the Amish farmers worked naturally,
with no pesticides and things like that,” she said. “But they can
cause problems, too, because they farm on one area for a long period
At the time, Timmermeyer’s brother was already in forestry school
at West Virginia University in Morgantown. The University of
Maryland didn’t have a forestry program but had an agreement that
made it easier for Maryland residents to attend WVU.
Timmermeyer enrolled at WVU and eventually graduated with a
degree in forestry.
Trimming the trees
After that, Timmermeyer spent six years as a forester for
American Electric Power.
At first, she oversaw AEP crews that cleared brush and trees from
the utility’s transmission lines. She decided which lines needed
sprayed with herbicides and which didn’t, and where to send cutting
crews to remove trees.
Later, she did essentially the same job with the smaller
distribution lines that run through residential neighborhoods.
Both roles involved their share of controversy, she said. Some
rural residents hate herbicide spraying. Folks in town sometimes go
overboard trimming trees they think are in the way of power lines,
“Some people just like to lop them off so they look like a coat
rack,” Timmermeyer said. “There’s a better way to do it so the trees
are less likely to be susceptible to disease and look better.”
During her time at AEP, Timmermeyer said, she became more and
more interested in environmental policy-making.
That interest led her to take a job with Terradon, a Charleston
environmental consulting firm that later changed its name to Potesta
& Associates. There, she helped companies that were applying for
water pollution or air discharge permits from the DEP.
Timmermeyer said she learned a lot about how the DEP works and
about industry complaints that getting permit approval takes too
“I had some case-by-case problems with that, but I found the
permit engineers very dedicated, talented and good at what they do,”
Timmermeyer said she’s also convinced that industry complaints
that West Virginia’s environmental rules are more stringent than
other states’ simply aren’t true.
“I certainly haven’t seen any data or evidence to really back
that up,” she said. “I’m not sure what their agenda is with
Private property rights
Timmermeyer said that going to law school was a natural
progression in her environmental career.
“I like forests, and I like walking around in the woods,” she
said. “But I really liked the legal aspects and the public-policy
While a law student, Timmermeyer wrote a law review article about
mountaintop removal and a ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles H.
Haden II to limit the practice.
In the article, Timmermeyer argued that any move to deny coal
companies mountaintop removal permits could require the government
to pay those companies for a “taking” of private property. The
article was called “So You Want to Ban Mountaintop Mining? You may
have to put your money where your mouth is.”
Today, Timmermeyer says that the article was more about doing
legal research than arguing for such a policy.
“Law school is about research and a topic in my constitutional
law class that interested me was private property rights and
takings,” Timmermeyer said.
“That issue just interested me. I don’t have an answer to it, and
certainly it is a ridiculous concept that the state would have to
pay for every regulation that it passes.”
Timmermeyer said that she hasn’t visited a mountaintop removal
operation, but has flown over several in the DEP’s helicopter.
“It was obvious from the helicopter,” she said. “It has an
obvious, noticeable effect on the terrain.”
Timmermeyer paused, and then added, “That’s probably an
understatement, isn’t it?”
On a bookcase in her office, Timmermeyer keeps a framed copy of a
“Scowl” that the DEP air office received from the Gazette in early
The DEP had issued a news release that cautioned the public not
to worry much about the results of a new federal study on toxic air
pollution. The study, the release said, was based on out-of-date
information and inaccurate modeling.
Although the DEP downplayed the federal study, the state agency
refused to release the actual report.
Today, though, Timmermeyer says that one of major goals is to
improve the way the DEP makes information available to the
That process will improve greatly, she says, when all the DEP
divisions in the Charleston area move into a new Kanawha City office
in fall 2004.
“For citizens and for industry, the FOIA process is going to run
a lot smoother,” she said. “The way we keep files and make them
available to the public is something that I would like to see
Timmermeyer said she also wants to improve the public hearing
process, so that the public doesn’t think permit approval is a done
deal by the time a hearing is held.
Along with that, she said, she wants the DEP to provide more and
better information about not just whether a proposed project meets
state regulations, but about what its actual impact on the
environment and public health will be.
“People want to know ‘What effect does this have on me?’” she
said. “Those are the kinds of questions people are asking.
“It’s not something that we have had the experience to handle,
but I definitely want to move the agency into that direction.”
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