LINCOLN — The longest serving director of the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality announced Tuesday he will leave the agency after 14 years.
Mike Linder, 56, informed the governor that his last day will be Dec. 20. Linder said he plans to join the Koley Jessen law firm in Omaha, where he will practice environmental law.
Gov. Dave Heineman had not made a determination Tuesday on the appointment of a new director, said Jen Rae Wang, the governor’s spokeswoman.
Heineman said he appreciates Linder’s years of service to the state.
“Under his leadership, the department has worked with our citizens and the private sector to continue utilizing our many natural resources in a responsible manner,” Heineman said in a statement.
Linder directed a $67 million-a-year agency with 215 full-time employees tasked to administer and enforce state environmental regulations. The DEQ also works closely with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which provides 44 percent of the state agency’s funding.
“The balance of protecting the environment and sustaining a vibrant economy has been a great mission. I have enjoyed every minute of it,” Linder said Tuesday in a statement.
Linder joined the department in 1986 as a staff attorney. He became general counsel in 1989 and a decade later, Gov. Mike Johanns appointed him director.
Linder is paid a $122,200 annual salary.
Over the years, he avoided lingering controversies, with the exception of evaluating a new route for the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Opponents of the pipeline have been sharply critical of a DEQ report that concluded the project represents a relatively minor threat to the state’s land and water resources.
Others say the department is too eager to help agriculture and industry comply with regulations and not aggressive enough when it comes to enforcement.
In response, Linder said the department works to follow the state’s environmental protection laws and regulations.
“I think we’ve always been as objective as we can be and tried to make the best decision as we saw it,” he said.
During his tenure as director, Linder said the agency has made strides in helping regulated entities better understand why and how they must comply with the law. Whether it was development of the riverfront in Omaha or helping a small community design a new sewer lagoon, Linder said department staff members try to help regulated entities achieve compliance.
Linder is the latest member of Heineman’s Cabinet to step down, with the governor’s final term drawing to a close at the end of 2014.
He will be the fifth top administrator to leave state government this year and the seventh in the past two years.
Other departures include Correctional Services Director Robert Houston, who retired; Tax Commissioner Doug Ewald, who took a position with KPMG accounting firm; Administrative Services Director Carlos Castillo, who took a campaign job; Public Health Director and Chief Medical Officer Dr. Joann Schaefer, who took a job with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska; Motor Vehicles Director Bev Neth, who got a position with the Nebraska Safety Council; and Fire Marshal John Falgione, who retired.