(Wyoming DEQ, October 23) – After many years spent enhancing Wyoming’s environment, Alan Edwards is turning his attention closer to home.
Edwards, deputy director and Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Division administrator for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), is retiring this month.
“Alan has shared a wealth of knowledge during his time here at DEQ,” said Todd Parfitt, DEQ Director. “He provided a powerful example of leadership and a significant record of accomplishments.”
Edwards came to work for DEQ’s Water Quality Division in 1982. He served in many roles, including supervisor of the EPA Wastewater Construction Grants program, DEQ representative to the State Loan and Investment Board and governor’s lead for the Brookhurst subdivision superfund site near Casper.
In 1986, he began working on environmental issues for Governor Mike Sullivan. That work included serving as governor’s representative for the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Powder River Basin Regional Coal Team, and as a member of regional organizations such as the Western Interstate Energy Board.
In 1989, Edwards spent seven months serving as DEQ’s interim director.
He left to pursue other interests in 1991, but returned to DEQ in May 2010, this time as the AML administrator, a position he held for the past 10 years. Edwards also spent the past five-and-a-half years as deputy director of the agency.
Edwards regularly worked with the Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC), spearheading efforts on the Stream Protection Rule and the 2015 reversal of a prior reduction in AML funds.
Recently, Edwards worked toward the reauthorization of AML funding, which is set to expire in September 2021.
Don Newton, an AML project manager for DEQ, said Edwards has been in the trenches on that project, testifying to Congress and acting as a spokesman for AML programs across the country.
“Without reauthorization, then funding for AML projects across the country goes away. We still have a lot of work to do,” Newton said.
Edwards spearheaded an effort to increase visibility of successful AML projects, as well as AML needs across the nation. That effort includes a website and social media for a project called “Our Work’s Not Done,” which compiles and promotes information about AML programs and accomplishments across the nation.
Edwards began that project as part of his work on a communications group through the National Association of Abandoned Mine Land Programs (NAAMLP). He co-chaired the group with Eric Cavazza, director of the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Cavazza explained that Edwards worked hard to ensure that all AML programs in the country understood how the AML revenue is generated and how the funds are distributed. These efforts helped to create stronger relationships between AML programs across the country.
Edwards served as the Wyoming representative to the NAAMLP. In 2018, Edwards received the Stan Barnard Memorial Award. This award is presented annually by the NAAMLP to an individual who, according to the organization, has shown “outstanding dedication, commitment and hard work toward the enhancement of the association.”
Edwards also brought attention to the economic benefits Wyoming’s AML projects provide to the state. He gives credit for that effort to his AML employees.
“They have worked together as a team to accomplish the mission and to support each other. One example of this is the significantly increased volume of consultant and construction work that is being done to support Wyoming workers, contractors and to provide economic benefit to the state and local governments,” he said, adding that he expects to see more than $80 million in economic benefits to the state in 2020.
Edwards was instrumental in the establishment of the AML Native Plants Project, a multi-faceted project to restore the sagebrush steppe and protect sage grouse in Wyoming that includes partnerships with the Bureau of Land Management, The Nature Conservancy, the Wyoming Department of Corrections, Lander Middle School and several others.
Newton said it started when Edwards made a casual comment in a staff meeting that perhaps the AML program should return to old reclamation projects that had poor revegetation success to see if they could improve the sagebrush revegetation using more recent knowledge. The effort evolved into the much larger AML Native Plants Project.
Bill Locke, a former AML program manager, said, “It took a long time to get that project going, but he was more than willing to put the effort in and did. Consequently, we have a great program up and running.”
He added that Edwards never shied away from some of the more difficult projects. “Alan was not afraid to jump in with both feet, roll up his sleeves and work with us to get things straightened out,” Locke said.
Although much of Edward’s work took place within the AML Division, he worked in nearly all of DEQ’s divisions.
He served as acting administrator for the Solid and Hazardous Waste Division, during which time he led efforts to establish DEQ’s Cease and Transfer and Landfill Remediation programs, both of which continue to be successful.
Edwards twice served as acting administrator for the Land Quality Division and served in that role to manage the Brook Mine LLC permit. Similarly, he acted in the capacity of Air Quality Division administrator to manage a permit for the Kemmerer power plant.
Notably, Edwards also helped create an agency-wide bonding program that brought all bonding efforts under one program.
“I could not have been as successful as I have been able to be without the support of the AML team and others that I have had the pleasure to work with across the agency as well as, especially, the director,” Edwards said.
“I am looking forward to the next journey, but I leave with mixed feelings. To move on, some things will be left behind.”
Luke Esch, administrator of DEQ’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Division is taking over as deputy director of the agency. He will serve as interim administrator for the AML Division, as well.
Of Edwards, Esch said, “I have always been impressed at the level of dedication and hard work he puts in every situation. He has been a champion for the AML Program nationally and been a leader in the field. He has been a great example and a mentor to me and many others who will work together to continue the legacy that he leaves behind.”