Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke is leaving state service to join Efficiency Vermont, the organization that runs key energy conservation programs.
Walke said he has enjoyed being commissioner for the past two years and is eager to expand programs to help the state meet its ambitious climate goals.
“I’m looking forward to being able to be on the implementation side of things,” Walke told Seven Days Monday.
The Vermont native moved back to the state in 2017 to be a deputy secretary for the Agency of Natural Resources after stints in the U.S. Navy and as chief of staff at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
In the latter role, he worked on efforts to clean up drinking water in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., that had been contaminated by PFAS, the same class of fluorinated chemicals discovered in Bennington-areas wells in 2016.
Walke took a lead role in efforts to get Bennington residents with contaminated wells hooked up to clean water supplies and to hold Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the owner of a former North Bennington factory that polluted the wells with PFAS, responsible.
The company agreed in 2019 to spend approximately $25 million to run water lines to 245 homes in the area. Affected residents reached a $34 million settlement with the company in 2021.
Walke has been the administration’s point person to explore the state’s possible participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative, a multi-state tax-and-regulate program to regulate emissions from vehicles. Walke’s boss, Gov. Phil Scott, ultimately declined to join.
Walke also served on the year-long Climate Council that sought a strategy to help the state comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, which Scott also opposed.
Walke declined to address whether these challenges put him at odds with the Scott administration on key environmental issues or whether those contributed to his departure. Scott has been widely criticized by environmental groups for not doing enough to ensure the state meets its goals of reducing climate pollution.
The commissioner thanked Scott and Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore and the “amazingly passionate and competent” staff at DEC.
Walke will start on May 9 as Efficiency Vermont’s new managing director.
“We’re excited to welcome Peter as the next leader of Efficiency Vermont,” Rebecca Foster said in a written statement. Foster is the CEO of VEIC, the nonprofit clean energy organization that operates Efficiency Vermont as what is known as an efficiency utility.
“Peter’s wealth of experience partnering with diverse stakeholders to find solutions that work for all Vermonters is the perfect match for this role," Foster said. "Peter’s career reflects his strong ethic of listening to all voices to make thoughtful and consistent progress toward solving complex challenges.”