The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced that it had selected a longtime Pennsylvania environmental official to head its Chesapeake Bay Program Office. 

The U.S. EPA has selected Dana Aunkst, a longtime Pennsylvania environmental official, to direct its Chesapeake Bay Program Office. (Courtesy U.S. EPA)

EPA Region III Administrator Cosmo Servidio named Dana Aunkst, who has held a number of positions with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the years and authored its Chesapeake Bay “reboot strategy to oversee the office which coordinates state and federal Bay restoration efforts.

“He has tremendous skill at building partnerships and creating a shared vision among geographically diverse stakeholders,” Servidio said. “His experience and relationships with multiple agencies will serve us and our partners well as we accelerate efforts to safeguard the Chesapeake Bay and its living resources.”

Aunkst has worked for 33 years on environmental programs in private industry as well as local and state government. Since 2002, he has worked at the Pennsylvania DEP where he has served in a number of positions, including deputy secretary and acting secretary.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to build upon the accomplishments to date by EPA and its partners,” Aunkst said. “I look forward to working collaboratively with our stakeholders in protecting our nation’s largest estuary and the local waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

He also served as deputy secretary for field operations, overseeing six offices in implementing the full array of state and federal regulatory programs.

As executive deputy secretary of operations he oversaw the activities of more than 2,000 professional and technical staff engaged in all aspects of environmental protection. As deputy secretary of water, he oversaw programs for surface and groundwater quality; soil and water conservation; public water withdrawals; sewer facilities planning; and industrial discharges.

In that job, he also led efforts in 2016 to write the strategy to reboot the state’s Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts after it had fallen far behind and faced potential action from the EPA. Since then, the agency has been working to implement that strategy.

“Dana is a results– and data-driven manager of environmental programs and will be a good fit with the professional staff at EPA,” said David E. Hess, former DEP secretary. “Pennsylvania is the linchpin to meeting Chesapeake Bay Watershed cleanup goals, and he knows our state well. The challenge will be to dedicate enough federal and Pennsylvania resources to the program to accomplish those goals.”

Aunkst’s appointment comes at a key time, as one Bay Program challenge in coming years will be working with Pennsylvania to accelerated cleanup efforts — the state contributes more water-fouling nutrients to the Chesapeake than any other jurisdiction, but is far behind in its share of the cleanup effort.

As head of the Bay Program office, Aunkst will be responsible for more than just nutrient reduction efforts. The office oversees and helps coordinate activities aimed at meeting goals of the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement, from environmental education and citizen stewardship to habitat restoration and fisheries management.

Aunkst starts his new position on Dec. 23.