Gov. Jim Justice is promoting from within the state Department of Environmental Protection to name the agency’s new chief.
Justice announced today that Harold Ward, a longtime employee of the agency, will now lead it as cabinet secretary.
He replaces Austin Caperton, a longtime coal mining industry executive who announced his retirement last month. The change coincides with the start of the second term for Justice, whose family owns extensive coal and timbering properties.
Ward recently served as DEP’s deputy secretary of operations and director of the Division of Mining and Reclamation, where he oversaw all operational components of the agency, as well as the agency’s mining regulatory program.
“Harold Ward has been a superstar in the WVDEP for a long time and the work he’s done during my administration, leading our Division of Mining and Reclamation, has been truly incredible,” Justice stated today. “I have all the confidence in the world that he will do a fantastic job as our new secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection.”
Ward said he is honored to be chosen.
“The WVDEP has thrived under the leadership of Governor Justice and Secretary Caperton. I hope to maintain that momentum as we continue to serve the people of West Virginia and protect our state’s air, land, and water,” he stated.
After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology from West Virginia University, Ward started his career in state government in 1989 as an inspector-in-training with what is now called the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources. After a brief, six-month tenure with DNR, he transferred to the state Division of Energy as a surface mining reclamation inspector-in-training.
After the Division of Energy was incorporated into the DEP in 1991, Ward continued his career in the Division of Mining and Reclamation and was assigned to the agency’s Logan office. There, he advanced from inspector to inspector specialist to inspector supervisor, before serving as the deputy director of DMR in 2011. Ward was promoted to director of DMR in 2013.
In 2017, Ward was asked to take on additional duties within the agency and oversaw the DEP’s Division of Land Restoration. That role was expanded in 2018 to include all DEP operations.
His long history with state government gave Angie Rosser of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition reason to believe he’ll bring expertise, willingness to listen and broad perspective of the state’s environmental challenges to the role. She compared the selection to Randy Huffman, a longtime agency employee who was DEP secretary right before Caperton.
“It’s an agency that affects all of our lives every day. It affects the water we drink and the air we breathe. It doesn’t get more personal than that,” Rosser said. “I’m pleased it’s someone who brings experience, and I hope he gets the support he needs to advocate for the agency and its mission.”
Some of the current challenges emanate from the many bankruptcies of coal companies that operated in West Virginia. Others are challenges brought on by natural gas activity.
“I hope what Harold Ward will be able to do is bring his knowledge and experience to really solve some big problems,” Rosser said.
“We have got thousands of miles of impaired streams that need cleaning up; a lot of minelands and probably more on their way to clean up. And this is going to take major investments, major commitment and a way to look at where the structural failures have been.”
She hopes Ward will bring a spirit of cooperation to community groups, including being open about communication.
“Ultimately this agency works for us. It works to protect us. To see a commitment to transparency and better relations with the public would go a long way,” Rosser said. “I’d like to see more of that and more public involvement in agency decision-making.”
The West Virginia Manufacturers Association praised the choice of Ward to lead DEP.
“Harold Ward brings years of experience and a high level of familiarity with the agency to his new role as Cabinet Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. It has been our experience with Mr. Ward that he is receptive to input from all sides of the issues that are confronted by the DEP,” stated Rebecca McPhail, president of the Manufacturers Association.
“He works to build consensus among stakeholders for the protection of the environment and responsible growth of industry in West Virginia. We look forward to working with Secretary Ward in his new capacity.”
This past December, Governor Justice announced that Caperton, the previous DEP secretary, would be transitioning to a new role outside of state government.
“I’d like to once again thank Austin for his four years of incredible service to the people of West Virginia and for his many, many years of friendship,” Justice stated today.
“He has been a shining light in my administration since day one and, while I’m sad to see him leave, I know he has some wonderful opportunities in front of him, and I wish him nothing but the best.”