On Friday, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Deputy Legislative Secretary and Chief Senate Consultant on the Committee for Environmental Quality Rachel Wagoner as the new head of the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). Her salary will be $189,389.
The changeup in CalRecycle comes after years of declining recycling rates statewide, including a 10% drop in recycling cans and bottles in the past 5 years and a mass closure of recycling centers across the state making recycling more difficult for Californians. The bottle redemption declination, partially fueled by COVID-19 concerns, was particularly noted by Newsom, as he has sought to overhaul the program and find a way for more people to take advantage of turn in in bottles and cans for cash.
Upon accepting the job pre-confirmation on Friday, Wagoner has said that priorities include the bottle redemption issue, clean up after wildfires across the state, work closer with manufacturers and producers to better recycle cans, bottles, and other containers, and to bring recycling and manufacturing jobs back to California from China, which has reduced importation of American waste in recent years.
“This is an opportunity to bring those jobs back to the state of California,” said Wagoner of the issues CalRecycle faces. “We need to create that economy here. Not only recycling those materials but creating the new, innovative products that can use those recyclable materials.
“I definitely think that should be on the table as a potential solution. We really need the producers and the manufacturers to be at the table and designing their products for the next life and the life after that.”
Wagoner, a Deputy Legislative Secretary for Governor Newsom for nearly two years and the Chief Senate Consultant on the Committee for Environmental Quality for 13 years, is largely seen as a non-controversial choice for the position, despite ties to Newsom and the Democratic Party. Unlike prior heads of CalRecycle, she has indicated that she wants to work with companies on CalRecycle decisions. Likewise, many companies and trade groups said Friday that they would work with Wagoner.
Widespread support for Wagoner, lingering questions over her wildfire mitigation bill actions
“We’re committed to working with the Governor, Director Wagoner and lawmakers to strengthen and modernize California’s recycling system,” noted the American Beverage Association in a statement. “We want to get every bottle and can back so they can be turned into new ones and not end up in the environment.”
Consumer Watchdog, an advocacy group and a leading critic of CalRecycle, also praised the choice of Wagoner.
“This is an important sign that the governor is serious about cleaning up CalRecycle and also a harbinger of hopefully a transition to a new system that puts California back on top in terms of bottle and can redemptions,” said Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court in a statement on Friday.
Other analysts have noted that Wagoner also represents a more centrist approach by Newsom in the lead up to the 2022 Gubernatorial race.
“Wagoner is a registered Democrat, but she has been consulting in the Senate to both parties since 2007,” explained environmental consultant Kelsey Burton. “She hasn’t been one to inject a lot of political ideology and is more of a ‘just get the job done’ type. Newsom needs this kind of stance because of all the things that need fixing or updating in Cal Recycle, but it may also indicate that Newsom is worried about reelection and wants to have more middle-of-the-road people around him.
“Point is, he needs someone who will fix the bottle system and clean up after the wildfires, and she’s his woman to do it.
“She’s been called by some as more of an eco-warrior type, but that was never really an issue. If there is one, it will be on how her time as a consultant killed several wildfire mitigation bills, bills that could have possibly reduced the number of wildfires in California in recent years. It’s one of the few red flags on her, but you can bet someone will question why they want to appoint someone to cleanup after wildfires after they had allowed them to happen to that scale in the first place.
Wagoner has said that her first big job in Cal Recycle is to help facilitate wildfire cleanup with other departments across California, including selecting contractors for the job.
Wagoner is expected to be confirmed by the Senate when they return to session next month.