South Carolina labor chief Catherine Templeton has been tapped to run the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, according to a release from the department.
The DHEC board chose her over about 250 other candidates for the agency’s top position, which will pay up to $184,000. Agency officials hope to have a new commissioner on board before spring.
Templeton will represent a departure for DHEC. The past three commissioners have been agency lobbyists. The Mt. Pleasant resident's selection marks the first time a woman has held DHEC’s highest-ranking job.
DHEC, among the state’s largest departments with about 4,500 employees, has a wide-ranging mission. As a combined health and environment department, DHEC oversees everything from hospital expansions and public health to water quality in the state’s rivers. The agency also considers air, water and waste disposal permits needed by industries.
The department is frequently embroiled in disputes between business and interest groups over whether to issue environmental permits. But under Haley, the agency may be pushed to accommodate economic interests more than it has in the past. Since her election in 2010, Haley has been vocal in wanting DHEC to be more business friendly, an effort that has rankled environmentalists who say the department already is too accommodating to businesses.
Templeton, chosen by Haley to run the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, said both the governor and DHEC board chairman Allen Amsler asked her if she was interested in the job. She applied after the board, dissatisfied with early candidates, reopened the application process in mid-November, records show.
Supporters describe Templeton as a tough-minded attorney.
Templeton said it’s too early to determine how she would run the agency if given the job, but she questioned whether some services DHEC provides duplicate services from other departments, particularly health agencies.
“I think there is a lot of mission creep,” the 41-year-old Mount Pleasant resident said earlier this month. “DHEC needs to decide what DHEC is, and go do that well. Not that DHEC is doing things poorly now, but if you do a whole lot, you are master of none. Every program over there, every area over there, needs to be picked up and examined to make sure it is being run efficiently -- and that it is something DHEC needs to do.”
A mother of three who grew up in Irmo, Templeton is a Wofford College graduate with a law degree from the University of South Carolina. She has been caught up in several controversies at the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, including laying off about four dozen workers and being sued.
She also has assisted Haley in the governor’s fight against a National Labor Relations Board complaint against Boeing. The NLRB said Boeing opened an aircraft plant in North Charleston in retaliation against union workers in Washington state, where Boeing has maintained manufacturing facilities. She also has drawn scrutiny because she never moved to Columbia from Mount Pleasant. She said she would not move to Columbia if picked for the DHEC job.
While she has enjoyed working at the labor department, Templeton said she decided to seek the job upon realizing the impact DHEC has on most South Carolina citizens.