The big environmental news in Pennsylvania this week has been the resignation of John Quigley, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. Quigley resigned following a controversy over an angry, expletive-filled email he sent to environmental groups. But according to StateImpact Pennsylvania reporter Marie Cusick, the email scandal may just have been the final nail in the coffin for Quigley.
The Allegheny Front: So what exactly was in Quigley’s email and how did it lead to his resignation?
Marie Cusick: Well, he sent this email the day after some legislative committees had taken some votes to block environmental regulations for oil and gas drilling, as well as a vote to give themselves some more power over the federal Clean Power Plan, which is designed to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. So Quigley was pretty angry that this had happened and felt like environmental groups hadn’t real stepped up and said much about it. So he sent off this angry email a day later. It surfaced about a month later and he resigned. But when you talk to people close to the situation, they say the email was really just the last straw and that he had a fraught relationship with the governor’s office and the legislature.
AF: And in this email, he accuses environmentalists of staying on “your moratorium hobby horse.” What exactly does he mean by that?
LISTEN: “What Led to DEP Secretary John Quigley’s Resignation?”
MC: Well, I have to say that I tried repeatedly to reach out to him and get his side of the story. But as far as I know, he hasn’t talked to anyone yet. But I think what he meant is that some environmental groups have really beat this drum to just ban fracking. And I think the point was, ‘Hey, that ship has kind of sailed, and you’re really not adding to the conversation or helping anyone make the environment better when you just keep talk about banning it.’
AF: So John Quigley did once work for the statewide environmental organization Penn Future. So what does this situation say about the revolving door between environmental groups and the oil and gas industry and the people that hold jobs as environmental regulators?
MC: From what I understand, I think he did have a close relationship with these people he sent the email to and felt he could speak frankly with them. But clearly, the way he went about it was unprofessional. But I think the sort of scandal that bubbled up around it was more about the fact that shortly after he sent this email, suddenly some environmental groups started running attack ads against some Senate Democrats. And [the legislators] started raising questions, contacting the governor’s office, and saying, ‘Hey, what is this we hear about this email? We didn’t vote the way Quigley wanted us to vote, so is he encouraging these groups to run ads against us?’ So it just created this situation where the governor’s office just felt like he was kind of a liability for them.
AF: Is there any evidence that’s the way this actually went down?
MC: When you read the email, he actually doesn’t mention anyone by name or say ‘please run attack ads.’ He urges them to act, and says, ‘Hey, the environmental community really doesn’t have any influence in Harrisburg, so are you going to sit around or are you going to do something?’ So, no—there’s no smoking gun here that links this to those attack ads. But I talked to one of the state senators yesterday, Senator John Yudichak, a Democrat, and he still feels like having read the email now, it is evidence that Quigley did inspire the ads.
AF: So what are the implications of Quigley’s resignation for the state’s updated oil and gas regulations?
MC: People are definitely concerned about what’s going to happen. Although he was a polarizing figure, Quigley certainly was seen as a very strong advocate for environmental causes. Chapter 78 is the name given to these updated regulations, and they include both regulations for the newer Marcellus shale wells as well as the conventional industry, which has been around since oil was discovered here in the 19th century. And the department has been working on this for years—before Quigley even took the helm. But they’ve just become really controversial, and the industry has fought them really hard. So there’s a lot of fear that these conventional regulations might just get thrown out.