Gov. Ralph Northam will reappoint David K. Paylor as director as of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the state agency at the center of the impassioned debate over the state's handling of a pair of natural-gas pipeline projects.

Northam is expected to make the announcement today at an internal staff event marking the 25th anniversary of the DEQ, according to the governor's office. 

"David Paylor has served this Commonwealth admirably as the Director of the Virginia DEQ and I am happy to reappoint him," Northam said in a prepared statement. "Caring for our natural resources and expanding our clean energy economy are among my top priorities as governor and I am confident that David will help execute that agenda."

The DEQ was created in 1993 by merging four agencies into a new entity with a comprehensive mission to protect Virginia's air, water and land.

With his reappointment, Paylor will serve as DEQ's director under a fourth straight governor. Then-Gov. Tim Kaine appointed him to the job in 2006, making Paylor the state's top anti-pollution official and capping a career in state government that dates back to the 1970s.

Northam's decision ensures continuity for a state agency that deals with complex environmental issues. But it could disappoint activists who have pressured Northam, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the DEQ to take a more aggressive stance toward policing energy companies.

Paylor and the DEQ have come under close scrutiny for issuing permits for the two pipeline projects, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Supporters of the pipelines have pitched them as an environmentally sound way to strengthen the mid-Atlantic region's energy supply, but critics contend the DEQ has ignored warnings about the pipelines' potential threats to streams, wetlands and drinking water.

Paylor has defended the DEQ's actions, calling the regulatory process for the projects "the most rigorous for any pipeline in Virginia history."

In Southwest Virginia, opponents of the Mountain Valley Pipeline have been protesting by sitting in trees that lie in the pipeline's path, a standoff that drew a police response last week.

Along with the State Corporation Commission, the DEQ plays a key role in regulating companies like Dominion Energy, the influential utility that's among the top donors to Virginia politicians. Critics have chastised Paylor for accepting a Dominion-paid trip to the Masters golf tournament in 2013, calling it an example of the too-cozy relationship between state regulators and the companies they're supposed to regulate.

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