Doug Benevento - Rocky Mountain Arsenal

Doug Benevento, then the Region 8 administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, leads a discussion at Rocky Mountain Arsenal wildlife refuge on Sept. 9, 2018. 

I’m biased. I’ve always liked Doug Benevento, and he’d have to try a lot harder to change that.

President Trump apparently thought a lot of him, too, nominating Doug a year ago to be the second in command, the deputy administrator, of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Of all the big-shot politicians, operatives and wonks I’ve known, Doug is the highest ranked one whose personal cell phone number I possess, and he’s the first big shot in Colorado who ever told me anything newsworthy.

Let me catch you up. Doug had been EPA’s Rocky Mountain Region 8 administrator from 2017 until he was promoted last year. Along the way, he had helped out the headquarters in D.C. as senior counselor for regional management and state affairs.

Before he joined the Trump administration, he did a bunch of stuff for Xcel Energy and practiced law at powerhouse firm Greenberg Traurig. But back when anybody could call him on the phone, he was the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

His last week at the EPA, I talked to him on the phone. I reminded him of the day we met nearly 20 years ago, my second day as the environment reporter at the Denver Post.

Younger and peppier, I bounced up and introduced myself to the big dog after a meeting at the state health department. Doug had been in the top office a month, after he had been a division chief there, so we were both new, he said.

“Yes, Cotter Mill!” Doug remembered a couple of weeks ago, when I brought up the news from back then.

Cotter is a former uranium mill and 2,600-acre Superfund site in Canon City. Locals and survivors of former mill workers could not be satisfied.

Doug was triangulated between the corporation, the town and federal regulators, equal forces pulling in every direction.

He came off earnest, pleasant, but in charge in Fremont County. If you tarred and feathered him, I thought even then, you would feel bad about it. I thought locals might try one night at a meeting I recall being held in a library building. Doug calmed things down. I don’t remember how. Just being Doug, I guess. He Doug'ed them.

He’s the opposite of his old boss in the White House in almost every way I can think of. I told him I was surprised when I heard he had joined the administration and even more surprised when he became the second in command. If somebody had asked me if Doug were a liberal or conservative before, I would have said I didn’t know; I guess it depended on the subject.

I couldn't tip him off the balance beam to praise or criticize the former president, and I tried.

"When it comes to doing my work as a public servant, I don't think I've ever been political," he said, "and I've done my best to not be political."

He wasn't on board with Trump on Jan. 6, however.

Doug has a decades-long relationship with Capitol Hill in one capacity or another, and the hallways he saw being desecrated on live TV were places he knew well and cherished.

"There are limits on the English language that sometimes don't allow you to say exactly what you're feeling," he recalled of that day. "You could call it gut-wrenching, horrible, disgusting, and that's even an understatement."

Doug said everyone involved should be held to account and serve justice — everyone.

"People have to understand that words have meaning, and words should be chosen more carefully in volatile times," he said, shifting deeply from his normally peppy tone.

I asked Doug if Washington changed him, if he’s any more jaded now. Actually, he said, he feels better for the experience.

“If you have a job like mine and you don't recognize how special it is and how cool it is, then you shouldn't have it," Doug said.

People move on quickly these days, and those who have ill will toward Doug for doing his job should let it go. I can tell you he never had bad intent toward you, unless he’s been fooling me for a long time.

The day after the Biden administration was sworn in, Doug’s bio disappeared from the EPA website. “Sorry, but this web page is not available for viewing right now,” it says in the spot that used to have Doug’s face.

He’ll be home in Colorado now, instead of dividing his time with Washington, and it’s a cliché but true that he’ll spend more time with his wife, Gwen, and their daughters Anna and Kate.

Professionally, Doug hadn't given his next steps a lot of thought, he told me. He didn’t look around while he was still on the government payroll, he said, because he didn’t think that would look or feel right.

That off-the-cuff answer spoke everything I've known about the man. He's always handled the task in front of him.

There are people behind politics, and I think we forget that. Politics has made us a more bitter and tribal nation that attacks people as much as issues. Doug is a great Coloradan, just like the most of us, and a solid public servant. You'll have a hard time changing my mind.

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