Why Tom Wolf’s DEP secretary had to quit after he hit ‘send’

“Imagine what would happen,” says Tom Corbett’s DEP secretary, “if (I) sent a private email to presidents and CEOs of the top five oil and gas companies and said ‘where are you’ and ‘show up.'”

John Quigley
Twitter via @SecQuigley

Now-former Department of Environmental Protection secretary John Quigley resigned after cursing out state environmental groups in a private email, asking them to step up their efforts as he pushed for stricter oil and gas regulations: “Do you really think staying on your moratorium hobby horse does anything to advance the cause of protecting the environment and public health?”    

But here’s the question: Was he just doing his job? The mission of the DEP is to “protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment.” Or did the email perhaps show he’d crossed the line from public service into advocacy? Was he too close to the environmental groups?

Mike Krancer, who worked as DEP secretary under Tom Corbett from 2010 to 2013, said the email showed “more than a cozy relationship.”

“It’s a hand-and-glove relationship between the secretary and those groups,” he said.   

“It’s the job of the secretary of the DEP to bring in all the groups and talk to everybody. Not just be lackeys of any particular side or any particular environmentalist group.”

Krancer, now partner and the leader of the Energy, Petrochemical and Natural Resources practice group at Philadelphia law firm Blank Rome, argued environmental groups have agendas of their own. He said a DEP secretary’s job is to execute the laws related to the environment. If a secretary wants to push for change, then he or she should persuade the legislature.

“Imagine what would happen if (I) sent a private email to presidents and CEOs of the top five oil and gas companies and said ‘where are you’ and ‘show up,’” he said. “Substitute the names  of senders and sendees and just imagine the volcanic eruption that would have occurred from the press.”

When Krancer was secretary, he said, the governor’s office instructed cabinet members before their tenure began not to conduct any state business by regular email. Krancer used two separate devices, one for private communications and one for business.

Jan Jarrett used to work — with Quigley — as head of the environmental group PennFuture. She said former DEP secretaries collaborated with environmental groups on a regular basis. They’d be in regular connection either in person, over the phone or over email, exchanging ideas or discussing particular issues.

She didn’t find the contents of the email to show too close of a relationship, nor did she find the tone to be inappropriate.

“I can remember times when for instance (Ed Rendell’s DEP secretary and now Senate candidate) Katie McGinty was very, very, very angry with us at PennFuture for filing a lawsuit,” Jarrett said, “and she would let us know about it.”

State Impact reported the “email was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back,” and that he had previously alienated the Wolf administration and the legislature. Krancer saw this email as a sign Quigley went too far beyond what the administration would call for.   

You’re not king of the world when you’re secretary of the DEP,” he said. “You work for the governor.”

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