One of the state legislature’s most vocal environmentalists is criticizing Governor Tom Wolf for failing to support tougher regulations for Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry.
The attack is coming a member of his own party—the minority chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).
“You can’t expect continued support if you’re not sticking up for the environment,” Vitali says of the governor. “I don’t think the people remaining in Wolf’s top echelon really prioritize the environment.”
Vitali held a press conference Monday at the Capitol with other environmental supporters, and says he believes the pending regulations for the state’s conventional oil and gas drilling industry are now “on the chopping block.” He says so far, Wolf has refused to commit to supporting them.
Vitali also accuses the administration of lying about the recent sudden departure of John Quigley, who headed the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“With regard to Secretary Quigley, [Governor Wolf] has disappointed me greatly,” says Vitali.
Quigley left last month, following controversy over a profanity-tinged email he sent to environmental groups, urging them to exert a stronger influence in Harrisburg. The governor’s office says Quigley resigned, but Vitali claims he was fired for being “too effective.”
“I was conducting business at 3 in the afternoon with Secretary Quigley, prior to his being forced to resign at 5pm,” says Vitali. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that’s what happened.”
Quigley had pushed for stronger regulations for the state’s oil and gas drillers and supported the state continuing to work on the Obama administration’s climate initiative, known as the Clean Power Plan, which is currently tied up in federal court.
Vitali fears such efforts are now in jeopardy as the Wolf administration works to negotiate a budget deal with the Republican-led legislature.
“What kind of statement does that say to other employees in the DEP who want to do the right thing?,” asks Vitali. “If someone can lose their job by just being an aggressive environmental advocate, it has to have a chilling effect.”
In an email Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan didn’t address Vitali’s criticisms, and said only that the administration is, “still working with the legislature to reach agreement on the new oil and gas regulations.”