DEP official’s private email had urged groups for ‘pushback’

MARC LEVY, Associated Press

HARRISBURG — In an email that precipitated his resignation, Gov. Tom Wolf’s environmental protection secretary criticized environmental advocates for a lack of “pushback” against certain bills and said they were “without influence.”

He also accused Democratic lawmakers of “apostasy” and Republicans of “shilling” for the natural gas industry amid policy battles over drilling and power plant pollution.

John Quigley, a longtime environmental advocate, resigned Friday after Wolf’s office disclosed that it was looking into the email Quigley had sent from a private email address to environmental group leaders on April 13. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the email on Monday.

In the email, Quigley wrote that he “can no longer hold back” and warned that vetoes by Wolf should not be taken for granted. He also suggested that it was counterproductive for environmental groups to stick to a position of opposing drilling.

“Do some of you think that staying on your moratorium hobby horse does anything to advance the cause of protecting the environment and public health? Do you really think the Governor will veto this (legislation) with NO support? The environmental community is without influence in Harrisburg. What will you do about it?” Quigley wrote.

Wolf has not discussed the contents of Quigley’s email. In a brief interview on Friday with The Associated Press, the Democratic governor confirmed Quigley’s resignation, but he would not explain the reasons behind it and said he did not fire Quigley. Wolf said only that Quigley did a “fine job.”

Quigley has not responded to voicemails seeking comment. Quigley, 56, was appointed by Wolf last year and confirmed by the Senate. In addition to being a longtime environmental advocate, he is a former Hazleton mayor and served in former Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, including as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary.

Quigley titled the roughly 120-word email “Chapter 78” — a reference to oil and gas drilling regulations — but did not recommend any specific action to environmental groups.

He sent the email a day after the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees each held a non-binding, bipartisan vote disapproving of tougher oil and gas drilling regulations being sought by Quigley through a separate regulatory process.

In the email, Quigley questioned “where … were you people yesterday? The House and Senate hold Russian show trials on vital environmental issues and there’s no pushback at all from the environmental community? Nobody bothering to insert themselves in the news cycle? Is there no penalty for D apostasy, at least, or shaming of the gas-shilling Rs? Apparently so,” he wrote.

After the committee votes, the committees’ Republican chairmen each wrote a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission saying Quigley’s department had blatantly violated provisions of regulatory law in advancing the proposal. The commission nevertheless approved the proposal on April 21 in a 3-2 party-line vote.

Critics say Quigley dealt poorly with lawmakers seeking compromise.

Quigley had a “determined resistance to collaborative conversation,” said Allegheny County Rep. John Maher, the Republican chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Environmental advocates and some Democratic lawmakers have stood by Quigley.

The director of Clean Water Action’s Pennsylvania chapter, Myron Arnowitt, called Quigley’s resignation a loss for the state and blamed it on “a long-standing lobbying campaign” by industry enemies to remove him for speaking out strongly on drilling and climate change policy.