The state senate unanimously approved Governor Tom Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection on Monday.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell has been at the helm of the agency for nearly a year. He was appointed last May after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, John Quigley, who was ensnared in controversy over an angry email he sent to some environmental groups.
The cabinet position is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs in Harrisburg, requiring the political skills needed to handle the often conflicting agendas of environmental groups, citizens, and the business community. The job has recently been marked with high turnover. McDonnell is the fifth person to lead the department in as many years.
He has taken on the roll at a particularly precarious time for DEP, as it struggles to do basic tasks– like inspecting public water systems– amid years of state budget cuts. The agency also is confronting efforts by President Donald Trump’s administration to sharply roll back federal funding for environmental programs.
Unlike past secretaries, McDonnell is viewed as someone who avoids ruffling feathers. It’s unclear why the state senate waited almost a year to confirm the governor’s relatively uncontroversial choice.
McDonnell has spent his entire career in state government. Most of his time has been at DEP– in the Office of Pollution Prevention and most recently as Policy Director. Before that, he worked for the state Public Utility Commission. His first job was an internship in the Governor’s Office of Administration.