Attorney Catherine Heigel of Greenville was chosen Friday as the new director of the state agency that oversees health and environmental protection.
The selection by the board for the state Department of Health and Environmental Control came after closed-door interviews with what agency officials said were three finalists, two of whom were state agency leaders in Kansas and Pennsylvania.
The three came from a pool of 99 applicants that included former South Carolina first lady Jenny Sanford.
Heigel’s selection for a four-year term in the agency’s top job goes to the State Senate for confirmation, with supporters hoping that is accomplished before the Legislature ends work in June.
DHEC is one of the state’s largest agencies, regulating everything from hospital expansion to industrial pollution.
Heigel’s selection came after a fuss that forced the withdrawal of Eleanor Kitzman, an insurance executive and friend of Gov. Nikki Haley who lacked experience in environmental and health issues. Kitzman stepped aside after complaints about how she received the nomination without competition four days after previous director Catherine Templeton resigned. Templeton led DHEC for three years.
Efforts to reach Heigel Friday were unsuccessful.
In her application, Heigel said she has “dealt with regulation, compliance and policy matters most of my career” – particularly on environmental topics – since becoming a lawyer in 1995. She also described herself as having “strong strategy and change management capabilities.”
Heigel currently is attorney and corporate strategies officer for Elliott Davis Decosimo, an Upstate tax, accounting and business advisory firm. Her career includes stints as president of the state branch of Duke Energy Corp. and as a staff lawyer at the state consumer affairs agency.
She contributed $1,000 each to Haley’s 2014 re-election campaign and the unsuccessful gubernatorial bid of challenger Democrat Vincent Sheheen in 2010 as well as other amounts to candidates in both parties, records at the State Ethics Commission show.
Heigel is a board member of the Original Six Foundation, Haley’s nonprofit organization; a former trustee of South Carolina’s chapter of the Nature Conservancy; and a member of the Public Service Authority that oversees hydropower produced by Santee Cooper, according to her application.
Her background in law and business management are “valuable assets,” DHEC board chairman Allen Amsler said.
He didn’t explain why she was a better choice than the other finalists – Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Michael Wolf and Timothy Keck, a gubernatorial aide in Kansas who formerly was the top lawyer at that state’s version of DHEC.
Heigel may fill the bill on what’s needed, a leader of one of the state’s main environmental groups said.
“Her experience is relevant,” said Ann Timberlake, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina. “She brings a lot of qualifications.”
Sen. Joel Lourie, a Richland County Democrat who challenged Kitzman‘s selection, said he needs to learn more on whether Heigel is “a suitable fit” for DHEC.
Heigel’s salary initially will be the minimum of $154,879 annually, with board members promising to ask the state Agency Head Salary Commission to raise it.