Governor Wolf has nominated the acting DEP chief Patrick McDonnell as the state’s permanent top environmental regulator. If approved by the senate, McDonnell will replace John Quigley, who was ousted by the Wolf Administration last May over an email controversy. McDonnell has been serving in that role since Quigley’s departure.
Environmentalists praised Wolf’s decision, saying McDonnell will have an easier time working with the legislature than his predecessor, who was looked upon with suspicion by lawmakers loyal to the oil and gas industry, and apparently clashed with other members of the Wolf Administration.
David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, says he hopes McDonnell can help quiet the partisanship at work in Harrisburg, especially when it comes to protecting the environment.
“McDonnell has spent a ton of time in the regulatory world, in energy and environmental world,” said Masur. “He’s familiar with substance and process. He worked at the PUC, where he had to work with Democrat and Republican appointees alike, which is good given politics of Harrisburg.”
Rep. Greg Vitali, a democrat from Delaware County and one of the most vocal environmentalists in the legislature, praised McDonnell as being bright and committed to the job. But Vitali doesn’t expect him to be as “aggressive” as former DEP Secretary John Quigley when it comes to enforcing environmental regulations.
“He’s a good choice given the circumstances,” said Vitali. “But I honestly don’t expect the same degree of aggressiveness that we saw at the start of the Wolf term.”
Vitali says the legislature has leaned to the right on environmental issues, so it is important for Wolf to have someone leading the department who can work with both parties.
Joe Minot, from Clean Air Council agreed. And said that McDonnell will have a very different style than Quigley.
“John [Quigley] was a member of the environmental community,” said Minott. “We knew what his positions were and we had easy access to him. Patrick [McDonnell] is more of a bureaucrat so he knows the department and knows how to get things done. I suspect he is a good subordinate in terms of getting things done.”
Industry seems to be pleased with the choice as well. The Marcellus Shale Coalition president Dave Spigelmyer gave McDonnell a thumbs up.
“We wish him well, we wish him success in his confirmation process,” said Spigelmyer. “He’s an honorable young man and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
Spigelmyer says his group has already had several meetings with McDonnell.
McDonnell has spent his entire career in the public sector. He was director of policy at DEP before getting appointed as acting Secretary. Previously, he ran the state energy office, in charge of renewables, and worked at the Public Utility Commission on electric, natural gas and water issues, and the impact of environmental regulation on energy markets. Before working at the PUC, he worked in various jobs at the DEP.
He is expected to be confirmed by the senate.