Delaware environmental secretary resigns

 (Photos courtesy of Markell admin. and NWF)

(Photos courtesy of Markell admin. and NWF)

After five years leading Delaware’s Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Collin O’Mara has resigned to become director of the National Wildlife Federation. 

State officials confirmed on Thursday that Secretary O’Mara will leave DNREC in July to become president and CEO of the NWF, which is based in Reston, Va.

“For the past 5 years I have fallen in love with the remarkable natural resources across our state,” O’Mara said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to promoting the common-sense solutions that we’ve advanced in Delaware across the nation to protect wildlife and fishery habitat, expand environmental education and address climate change.”

The NWF made the announcement during its conservation awards gala on Wednesday night. Deborah Spalding, chair of the NWF board of directors, described O’Mara as a “tireless leader with a deep understanding of conservation issues.”

He succeeds Larry Schweiger, who will retire from the NWF in May after a decade-long tenure. According to state officials, O’Mara will continue to live in Wilmington after assuming his new post.

“The National Wildlife Federation has a proud legacy of bringing diverse groups together to protect wildlife, advancing landscape scale conservation, expanding environmental education, promoting outdoor recreation … and driving meaningful policy change at every level of government,” O’Mara said. “I look forward to building upon Larry [Schweiger’s] inspiring work as we do our generation’s part to leave a healthier and more sustainable planet for all wildlife and future generations.”

A ‘driving force’ in state environmental policy

O’Mara is credited with being the driving force in Gov. Jack Markell’s landmark universal recycling legislation, with strengthening the state’s renewable portfolio and with leading the largest investment in environmental infrastructure in Delaware’s history.

Markell appointed O’Mara to lead the state’s environmental agency in 2009. Then 35-years-old, O’Mara was the youngest state cabinet official in country at the time. He previously served as “clean tech strategist” for the city of San Jose, Calif.

“Collin has earned our respect and gratitude for his service to our state, which has been marked by a tireless work ethic and commitment to improving our environment and the health of Delawareans,” Markell said in a statement. “When he moves on in July, he will leave a strong and capable team prepared to build on a legacy of remarkable improvements to the quality of life in our state … While we will be sad to see him leave the administration, the National Wildlife Federation has made a great choice for its next leader.”

O’Mara’s departure comes as Markell lobbies state lawmakers to pass legislation that would impose an annual $45 fee on residents to underwrite efforts to clean Delaware’s waterways. The plan, unveiled by the governor in March, has met with resistance from Delaware lawmakers.

“One of the final conditions of my accepting the new position was that I not start in May when they wanted me to, but I start in July because I wanted to give every day of the next two months my full attention to try to pass this initiative, at least some form of it,” O’Mara said.

Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, said she’s confident state lawmakers will be able to continue moving forward with O’Mara’s initiatives. 

“I think that the things he has started will continue on because he did a good job of planning them and putting them together and rolling them out,” Peterson said. 

Rep. Debra Heffernan, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, has worked with O’Mara on a number of bills and said his replacement has big shoes to fill. 

“We’re hoping his successor has that same hands-on approach and is as involved and loves our environment and loves Delaware,” Heffernan said.  

O’Mara said the Markell administration will have news soon regarding his replacement.

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