C. Alan Walker is Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development secretary.
He’s also a coal baron, having run his family’s company, Bradford Coal, for decades. Walker’s long history in the energy industry, record of environmental infractions, and role in setting the Corbett Administration’s regulatory policies, have raised the ire of environmental advocates.
History of Environmental Infractions
A lengthy Propublica report on Walker found “at least 15 cases in which Walker’s businesses polluted the state’s waterways.”
In one high-profile incident, about ten years ago, Walker threatened to stop treating waterways his company’s mines were polluting. The Post-Gazette detailed the case in a March report:
A decade ago, he notified the state that his companies were selling off assets and could no longer afford treat polluted water flowing from 15 inactive mines into streams that feed the Susquehanna River.
The Department of Environmental Protection responded by seeking — and winning — a court injunction requiring treatment to continue at the mines.
…The DEP’s then-secretary David E. Hess wrote about the injunction in a 2002 e-mail message to his staff.
“We have to take strong action against some folks who just don’t get it when it comes to fulfilling their environmental obligations. And that’s exactly what happened this week to a mine operator who told us he wasn’t going to spend a dime treating over 173 million gallons of polluted mine water,” Mr. Hess wrote. “It’s unfortunate with all the discussion nationally about corporate irresponsibility that we have a homegrown environmental example right here in Pennsylvania.”
The case was complicated, and Walker’s company never actually stopped treating those streams, as the Patriot-News clarified a few weeks later:
“It may have been a negotiating tactic or whatever,” Hess said. “It certainly did get our attention at the time.”
Walker now admits it was “posturing.” But he said, “We were trying to make them aware of the consequences if they continued to act as a bureaucracy.”
The DEP went to Commonwealth Court and successfully got an injunction that ensured treatment would not stop.
“Certainly Bradford Coal got our attention by saying they wouldn’t treat, and we certainly got Bradford Coal’s attention by going to court,” Hess said.
But the water continued to be treated all the while.
Big Government Skeptic
Walker has supported Republicans for decades, and contributed more than $100,000 to Tom Corbett has he ran for governor. He brings a healthy dose of skepticism about the role of government to his post at DCED, which is charged with developing Pennsylvania’s economy. Propublica detailed Walker’s outspoken views on government regulation:
In 1980 he told the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, a group of academic, government and industry representatives, that “the coal industry is at the mercy of its natural adversary,” referring to regulators. In the speech, he proposed a new position in state government that could “act as an advocate” for industry, perhaps as deputy secretary for natural resources in the state commerce department, according to an Oct. 18, 1980, article in the Pittsburgh Press.
Walker stated his views again in a 1981 public television documentary called “A Coal Operator’s Turn,” produced by Penn State University. In particular, he complained about the permitting process and said regulators didn’t understand the businesses they were regulating. “That’s where the frustration and the anger comes in, because primarily I think it’s ignorance on the part of the people we are dealing with.”
Record As Secretary
When it comes to environmental and energy policy, Walker has made headlines twice, since taking over DCED. The first was language in Governor Corbett’s budget granting DCED power to ““expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” While Propublica framed that as the administration granting Walker “supreme authority over environmental permitting,” Corbett Administration officials framed it as permission for Walker to help companies cut through bureaucratic delays.
In August, Walker advocated for additional drilling in state forest lands. About 700,000 of the 1.5 million acres of forest atop the Marcellus Shale have already been leased out, but Walker wants to expand that total. In an interview with Capitolwire, he said additional leasing “allows [Pennsylvania] to solve just about every economic problem we have that is hanging out there, including unfunded pension liability, infrastructure problems. In my opinion, we would be foolish not to use that money.” He brushed aside environmental concerns, saying, ““It’s a minimum impact on the state forest property, and in a matter of a couple years, it’s going to be re-vegetated.”