SACRAMENTO — One of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's closest advisors and strongest voices for cleaner energy has left the administration, a departure that environmental activists describe as a worrisome loss.
Terry Tamminen, a favorite of the governor who held some of the most powerful positions on his staff, is now working for Schwarzenegger's campaign as a volunteer and is not planning to return after the election, the governor's aides said.
Tamminen, a Democrat, was part of an inner circle with easy access to the governor, leaving him well-positioned to make the case for solar energy, alternative fuels and environmental protection. With Tamminen gone, activists say, they have lost an influential ally who was prepared to spar with industry forces leery of environmental regulation.
"Terry's departure leaves a big void in the governor's office," said Bill Magavern, senior representative for Sierra Club of California. "There now is nobody with experience in the environmental movement, and you have to think that's going to make a difference when they have their internal tug of war between the business interests and the environmental promises that the governor has made."
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmentalist who introduced Tamminen to the governor and who is a cousin of First Lady Maria Shriver, said that like a lot of important leaders, Schwarzenegger "listens to many people when he makes a decision. It's very important for the environmental community to have a strong advocate in the room. I worry. It's hard to find someone who's better at this than Terry."
In an interview, Tamminen, 54, said a major reason for his leaving was to help the Schwarzenegger campaign make the case that the governor's environmental record is a strong one -- a point that he said may not have sunk in with voters. Confirmation of his departure came on the same day that Schwarzenegger signed a bill expanding a program that aims to install 1 million solar roofs in California by 2018.
"There's nothing more important in California environmental and political life than to see the governor reelected," Tamminen said. "He has a terrific record on the environment."
Tamminen has taken a part-time consulting position with AbTech Pacific, West Coast distributor of storm water filtration technologies. Tamminen also has a book coming out later this year, "Lives Per Gallon: The True Cost of Our Oil Addiction"
Assemblyman Ray Haynes (R-Murrieta) said that among Republicans in the Legislature, Tamminen won't be missed. At private Republican caucus meetings, members would complain about reports that Tamminen was pushing for "more regulation and fees."
"He was a Democratic liberal environmentalist who felt it was his job to drive the administration toward bigger government, regulation and more control," Haynes said. "The general perception was he was not pro-California business. He was not perceived as a friend of the Republican caucus in the administration."
Tamminen was a bit of an odd fit in Schwarzenegger's government. He was an environmentalist working in a political operation that gets hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from oil companies and industry advocates. Tensions were evident.
Only last month, Tamminen took part in a news briefing before the governor's appearance with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and business leaders to talk about global warming.
Tamminen said that major companies like BP would show at the meeting that protecting the environment was compatible with economic growth. Adam Mendelsohn, the governor's communications director, interrupted him mid-sentence to give a different emphasis, saying part of the reason for the meeting was to determine the cost to business of programs that would reduce global warming.
Tamminen's path to the Schwarzenegger administration was unorthodox.
Early on, Schwarzenegger's senior staff was laden with alumni from former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson's administration. But Tamminen's background was more eclectic. He had gotten to know Kennedy through his environmental work with Santa Monica Baykeeper, part of a network of groups devoted to protecting waterways.
When Schwarzenegger jumped into the recall campaign, Kennedy urged him to speak to Tamminen. The two hit it off, and Shriver liked him as well. Schwarzenegger named Tamminen environmental secretary.
"Terry brought very progressive thinkers on the environment to Arnold's attention," Shriver said in an interview.
Persuaded that his senior tier of advisors needed fresh ideas, former aides said, Schwarzenegger later elevated Tamminen to cabinet secretary.
In that role -- liaison to the vast state government bureaucracy -- Tamminen was miscast, people close to the administration say. They fault Tamminen for failing to foresee continuing troubles with management of the prison system.
And some complained that after Hurricane Katrina, Tamminen was out of touch in the crucial hours when state officials were girding for a stream of refugees.
Schwarzenegger ultimately reassigned Tamminen, making him an advisor on energy and the environment.
Tamminen says that on a scale of 10, his performance as cabinet secretary might have been a six. But he defended his role in Katrina.
"I was the field general on that," he said.
He said that Patricia Clarey, the governor's former chief of staff, gave him "one of the nicest compliments on my tenure for the way I handled that."
Although Tamminen is out of government, his importance to Schwarzenegger hasn't diminished, Shriver said.
"Arnold will always rely on Terry's guidance," Shriver said. "You don't have to be 'in the building' to have influence."
Times staff writer Janet Wilson contributed to this report.