A Delicate Balance on State EPA Appointees

Times Staff Writers

Undertaking a delicate ideological balancing act as he shapes his new administration, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger named the head of a Santa Monica conservation group his secretary of environmental protection Wednesday but appointed a North Coast timber company executive as the agency's second-in-command.

Schwarzenegger's appointment of Terry Tamminen to head the state Environmental Protection Agency had been expected and was broadly cheered by environmentalists.

But the governor-elect turned in a different direction for the agency's No. 2 slot, naming James Branham, government affairs chief at Pacific Lumber and an official in former Gov. Pete Wilson's administration, as Cal-EPA's undersecretary. Schwarzenegger appointed another onetime Wilson official, Los Angeles attorney Maureen Gorsen, as the agency's deputy secretary.

Several other senior-level appointments by Schwarzenegger demonstrated the diversity of political views that have continued to characterize his nominees.

* Three officials named Wednesday to senior posts at the Department of Finance have worked under Senate Republican leader Jim Brulte of Rancho Cucamonga -- an important advisor to Schwarzenegger who campaigned with him during the recall.

The appointments of Michael Genest, 56, as chief deputy director for the budget; David Harper, 39, as deputy director of legislation; and H.D. Palmer, 43, as deputy director for external affairs underscored Brulte's influence in the new administration. They join an appointee named Tuesday, Cynthia Bryant, who also has ties to Brulte. Bryant was named Schwarzenegger's chief deputy legislative secretary.

Senate President Pro Tem John Burton (D-San Francisco), worked with Genest in resolving a summer stalemate over closing a $38-billion budget gap.

"He [Genest] knows the legislative process," Burton said. "He knows how it ticks.... He's a good guy, and it's a good appointment."

* For his secretary of Business, Transportation and Housing, Schwarzenegger chose a Democrat, Sunne Wright McPeak, who served for more than 15 years as a Contra Costa County supervisor. In recent years, McPeak has been president and chief executive of the Bay Area Council, a business group that develops public policy initiatives. She was appointed by Gov. Gray Davis to the state public power authority, created by the Legislature in 2001 to ensure the state maintains a steady supply of energy.

Art Torres, chairman of the California Democratic Party, praised the nominee. "I know her very well; she's a terrific choice," Torres said. "She's always been able to reach across the aisle, and that has made her very effective."

The naming of Tamminen's two subordinates caused concern among some environmentalists. They said the appointment of Branham in particular seemed to contradict Schwarzenegger's campaign vows to aggressively protect the California environment.

Along the North Coast, conservationists have long demonized Pacific Lumber as a company bent on throwing around its clout and too aggressively cutting ancient forests. In recent weeks, the firm contributed $40,000 to qualify a recall attempt against the Humboldt County district attorney who had pushed fraud charges against Pacific Lumber.

"This is absolutely outrageous," said Sharon Duggan, attorney for the Environmental Protection Information Center, which has fought Pacific Lumber. "How very convenient it is for Pacific Lumber to now have their lobbyist at Cal-EPA."

During his past stint in state government, Branham helped negotiate an agreement between the state and Pacific Lumber to save the Headwaters forest, a grove of old-growth redwoods that had been slated for the chainsaw. But soon after, he took a position with the timber company. Branham, 48, did not return a call seeking comment.

Gorsen, 39, had previously served as general counsel for the California Resources Agency under Wilson. During her tenure, Gorsen worked on an ambitious effort intended to help protect ecosystems in Southern California while also allowing developers to go forward with projects long delayed by concerns over imperiled wildlife.

Environmentalists argued that the effort undermined tougher regulations, but Gorsen said that wasn't the case. She also predicted that she and Branham would work harmoniously with Tamminen, the executive director of Santa Monica-based Environment Now and a chief architect of Schwarzenegger's environmental agenda.

"None of us wants to turn California into one giant slab of Manhattan," Gorsen said. "The environmentalists who are jumping up and down are people who don't want to compromise on anything. To pretend we don't have to build anything -- any roads, schools, houses -- is to bury our heads in the sand."

Tamminen, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, had long been considered the front-runner for the top post at Cal-EPA. But conservatives opposed to his selection had argued behind the scenes that Schwarzenegger needed to balance the key appointment by putting someone with stronger business ties in one of the other key posts, such as the Cabinet-level post of resources secretary.

Dave Bischel, California Forestry Assn. president, said Schwarzenegger had succeeded in fulfilling his campaign promise to tap a variety of appointees to solve the state's problems.

"Clearly these are people with very extensive resumes who are well-versed on the environment and bring a broad cross-section of perspectives," Bischel said.

Though some environmentalists expressed concern that Tamminen's two subordinates could undermine efforts to protect the environment, a few disagreed.

"I don't think Terry took the job to be a figurehead," said Bill Allayaud, chief lobbyist for Sierra Club California. "This does raise eyebrows and prompt some concern. Terry is in charge, but to have Branham right below him is a concern."

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