Finalists announced for director of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

Oregon’s environmental agency will be run by either interim director Leah Feldon or former congressional candidate Jamie Mcleod-Skinner

By: - January 19, 2023 5:07 pm
Leah Feldon and Jamie McLeod-Skinner

Leah Feldon (left) and Jamie McLeod-Skinner are finalists to lead the Department of Environmental Quality. (Handout photos)

Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality will be run by either interim Director Leah Feldon or former Democratic congressional candidate Jamie McLeod-Skinner. 

The two finalists for director of the department were announced Thursday at a meeting of the state Environmental Quality Commission. The final decision will be made by the five, governor-appointed members on the commission following in-person interviews with the candidates in February.

The commission, led by chair Kathleen George, is in charge of hiring DEQ’s director. 

“This has been a very long and very thorough process,” George said at the meeting. “We had a very large number of applicants and many applicants that were found to be qualified.” 

The new director will oversee 700 employees who work on state and federal programs to protect Oregon’s air, water and land, and a yearly budget of about $270 million.

The search for a new director began in September, after the department’s former director, Richard Whitman, resigned three months before his scheduled retirement. Department spokesperson Harry Esteve said at the time that Whitman’s decision was due to personal reasons.

Whitman had led the agency since 2016, after serving as natural resources director for former Govs. Kate Brown and John Kitzhaber. 

Feldon has been serving as interim director in Whitman’s stead since September. 

Leah Feldon

Feldon has worked at the department for 17 years, primarily in its Office of Compliance and Enforcement. She’s spent the last six years as Whitman’s deputy director. Feldon is a graduate of the University of Dayton, a private college in Ohio, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and sociology. She earned a law degree in environmental sciences and natural resources from Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland in 2004, and began working at DEQ shortly after graduating. 

Jamie McLeod-Skinner

Jamie McLeod-Skinner is an attorney and regional emergency manager from central Oregon, who recently ran as a Democrat to represent Oregon’s 5th Congressional District. She lost to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer. She also ran unsuccessfully in 2018 as a Democrat to represent the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

McLeod-Skinner was previously interim city manager of Talent in southern Oregon, where she led recovery efforts following the 2020 Almeda wildfire. She earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, a private university in Troy, New York and received a master’s degree in engineering from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She earned a law degree with a focus on natural resources law from the University of Oregon in 2016. She is a member of the Jefferson County Education Service District Board and the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board.

Both candidates will go through several days of interviews in February with the commissioners as well as members of interest groups and agencies that work closely with the environmental quality department, George said.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.

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