When Leonard Robinson announced that he would work for Uncle Sam following his successful career at TAMCO Steel, he knew he’d encounter challenges. But as chief deputy director for California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control, he helps oversee the state’s hazardous waste, brownfields, pollution prevention, and recycling programs. And he couldn’t be happier about his job.
On a typical day Robinson, 52, finds himself traveling to speak to industry groups and trade associations, advocating his department’s mission, and helping to improve the organization’s overall performance. “I’m like a 6-foot-4 cheerleader,” he says laughingly. “I go all over the state advocating what we do, taking input from the public, and figuring out how we can do things even better.”
The department’s current projects include participation in the California Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary Green Chemistry Initiative, which supports the research and development of safer chemicals and chemical processes; and the Take-It-Back Partnership, which encourages citizens to return products such as fluorescent light bulbs to stores for recycling. “The state of California on behalf of the California EPA is also suing the U.S. EPA over auto emissions and greenhouse gases,” says Robinson, who acknowledges that his own disappointment with the government and being at odds with the previous administration in California may have led him to take his current job.
Robinson worked for TAMCO, as an environment safety manager, keeping California’s only steel mill, in compliance in a state known for its tough environmental regulations. Robinson’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed, and in 2004 Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office called, asking if he’d like to work for the California EPA. “Four years ago I asked the administration, ‘Do you really want me? I was a little skeptical coming from private industry and thought there could be more flexibility in the government,’” Robinson says. “I told them about changes that I would make and they said, ‘You are exactly the person we want in this administration.’”
In his role, Robinson is second-in-charge at the 1,000-employee department, one of California EPA’s six bureaus. “I said ‘why not?’” Robinson recalls. “I really wanted to effect change, and what better place than the agency that has oversight for environmental protection?”
When the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) was signed into law in California in 2006, Robinson says he knew he was working for a real leader who’s not afraid of the politics involved. “By signing that, the governor set in motion what needs to be done to lessen the impact of climate change,” says Robinson, who over time sees the law affecting both individuals (who are too quick to throw away rather than recycle) and businesses (which will need to develop more environmentally friendly processes) .
Robinson, who speaks often to African American groups, says he’s enthused by the community’s growing interest in “going green” but adds that there’s more work to be done. “We’re starting to grasp the green movement,” Robinson says, “and realize that it’s about more than just hugging