Gary Mason, co-founder of Wichita environmental cleanup and training firm iSi Environmental, has been named deputy secretary of environment for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
He will oversee enforcement of the state’s environmental regulations.
Mason has sold his share of the company to his wife, Karma, and their children.
Mason said he will totally separate himself from the business as of Feb. 15, when he takes the state position.
“I believe that I can operate with no conflict of interest,” he said. “If there is something that I’m involved in and I feel because of my previous interest that I do have a conflict, I would defer that directly to the secretary.”
Asked if there remained a potential conflict of interest, Sara Belfry, a spokeswoman for KDHE, said there wasn’t.
“No, because he doesn’t own the business any longer,” she said.
A self-described fiscal and social conservative, Mason ran unsuccessfully against Republican state Sen. Carolyn McGinn for a seat in the Kansas Legislature in 2012, even moving into her district to run against her.
He said during the election that limiting regulations would be a priority if he were elected. He said that environmental regulations had gone too far, protected too little at too much of a cost for businesses.
He also said at the time that he would favor outsourcing KDHE’s permitting, monitoring and inspection operations to private companies.
On Monday, he said he would faithfully carry out his responsibilities as deputy secretary. Most of the regulations, he said, are federally mandated and enforced by KDHE.
“The bottom line is that there is a statute that we have to administer, and if we have to take administrative action we will,” he said. “I’m not going to not enforce a regulation because I believe we ought to be less stringent. That’s not an option.”
He said the department has other functions beside environmental regulation. It also provides customer service as the provider of permits and inspections for the public and businesses, and he hopes to make a contribution there, as well as provide technical advice to the governor.
Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, chairman of the House Energy and Environment Committee, said Mason was a fine choice.
“I’m sure that Gary will be a good steward of our resources. He’s had a wide variety of experience in remediation and other matters, I’m sure he’ll be an excellent choice for the slot.”
Mason has held key roles in government relations with the state Chamber of Commerce and the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce, both of which backed him with money and campaign ads.
Joe Spease of the Kansas Sierra Club was less enthused about the pick.
“We would prefer somebody with a more independent science background to look at the problems that we are facing right now,” he said.