John Quigley was forced to resign as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over a terse email he sent to environmental advocacy groups regarding inaction on key environmental policies.
It’s important to note that Quigley took his role as DEP Secretary seriously and was dedicated to protecting Pennsylvania and Pennsylvanians. In a state where industry has considerable influence over laws and rule making, he was trying to fulfill DEP’s mission to “protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.” He was…doing his job.
Specifically, Quigley had been facilitating the lengthy and tedious process of overhauling Chapter 78, regulations which oversee oil and gas operations, and working to finalize Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan–an effort to reduce carbon emissions. Two lofty goals in a state where natural gas and coal have dominated the energy scene and millions of dollars are spent each year to sway legislators in their direction.
The Chapter 78 revisions have been under works for over five years and began before Quigley was appointed Secretary. The process included two public input periods (drawing nearly 28,000 comments) and twelve public hearings.
The two major objections raised by conservatives in regards to the rules are: insufficient clarification between large-scale and smaller operations and missed filing deadlines. However, it is hard to take even these criticisms seriously when republicans have been working to obstruct the rule-making process long before it was ever near completion.
The new language eventually will go before the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) for final review and approval. The legislature could potentially block the rules though the Governor has the ability to veto that action.
Quigley’s email was sent the day after both House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees passed bi-partisan resolutions repudiating the new regulations and urging IRRC to reject them.
Republican Senator Gene Yaw, majority chair of the senate committee, made the motion to pass the resolution, claiming that the DEP had circumvented the regulatory process.
Senator John Yudichak, a democrat from Luzerne County, supported Yaw’s resolution. Many in the environmental community believe Yudichak was behind the campaign to remove Quigley. Why would a fellow democrat work so hard to remove the governor’s appointee? It is believed that Yudichak’s loyalty lies with the coal and gas industry in his district. He has been a vocal opponent of stricter oil and gas regulations and also voted to delay Governor Wolf’s Clean Power Plan. Far from an environmental-friendly legislator, he scored only 38% from Clean Water Action’s most recent scorecard.
Quigley was pushing too hard (and by pushing too hard, I mean he was doing what we should expect him to do as DEP Secretary) to finalize regulations that the conservatively controlled legislature has been against all along. He was putting the health and well-being of the people and the Commonwealth above special interests. He was trying to keep people and communities safe.
Legislators like Yaw and Yudichak do not seem to be too concerned about our water or air; they don’t care about a changing climate…they seem only to be concerned about the profitability of energy companies.
I was very impressed and grateful when Governor Wolf appointed Quigley to serve as DEP Secretary knowing his reputation as Mayor of Hazleton and former Secretary of the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources.
Now, I find myself disappointed. I see the Governor surrendering to a political witch hunt that gives conservatives another opportunity to obstruct good sound environmental policy.
John R. Faraguna is President is a founding member of the Susquehanna Valley Progressives.