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Pima County taps Barbara Escobar as permanent Environmental Quality director

Barbara Escobar was named the permanent director of the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality on Monday. The former chemist and lab inspector will take over the agency, which works to prevent air and water pollution, on May 8.

After almost 12 years with the county, Escobar became PDEQ's interim director in January after the previous director, Ursula Nelson, retired after 21 year of working for the county.

In a memo, County Administrator Jan Lesher applauded Escobar's skill in leading the department through reviewing an air quality permit for Becton Dickinson. Lesher called her a “valued asset,” skillful in management as well as “enhancing relationships” within the county and with other organizations.

A University of Arizona graduate, Escobar has been working with Pima County since 2010, when she managed their wastewater lab.

Before that, she worked for the state Department of Health Services from 1994 to 2010, regulating laboratories. Prior to that, she worked in a county lab for five years.

Escobar was PDEQ's deputy director for a brief stint starting last August. Before that, she spent seven years with the Pima County Wastewater Reclamation Department.

Over the past three years, PDEQ has had an annual budget of $1.3 million and about 40 full-time employees.

The small department also generated more than $5.2 million in revenue each year, nearly half of which came from issuing licenses and permits, such as those granted to dry cleaners, gas stations and crematories, which emit air pollutants. The agency monitors wells, drinking water, stormwater, landfills, disposed tires and hazardous waste. It also tracks air quality, mostly over the Tucson and Green Valley area, and issues advisories when pollution is at harmful levels.

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Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Pima County

Barbara Escobar