Mix of politics and profanity fueled Pa. regulator’s exit

By Mike Lee, Elizabeth Harball | 05/23/2016 04:12 PM EDT

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s top environmental official let fly at his green allies in a profane email that ultimately led to his resignation.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s top environmental official let fly at his green allies in a profane email that ultimately led to his resignation.

John Quigley, who became secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection when Wolf took office in 2015, was angry about legislative committee hearings attacking his department’s proposed oil and gas regulations. He was also upset that environmental groups failed to show up at the hearings, according to a copy of the email obtained by E&E Publishing.

"Where the fuck were you people?" Quigley wrote.

Email screen shot
An email from former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley to unnamed environmental community members.

Later, he wrote, "Do you really think the governor is going to veto this shit with NO support?"

Quigley resigned Friday after word of the email made the rounds in Harrisburg (EnergyWire, May 23).

The email was sent April 13 with the subject line "Chapter 78," referring to the oil and gas regulations that Quigley’s DEP had proposed.

The recipients were blacked out on the copy of the email E&E Publishing obtained. The Philadelphia Inquirer and other Pennsylvania newspapers identified the recipients as PennFuture, PennEnvironment and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The Chapter 78 rules were in the works before Wolf took office, but Quigley’s staff tried to strengthen them, and the Republican-led Legislature has repeatedly tried to block them. The rules would prohibit outdoor waste pits and require more protection for drill sites near streams, schools, playgrounds and other sensitive areas (EnergyWire, April 22).

Quigley was apparently angered because the environmental groups didn’t appear at committee meetings intended to block the regulations, and because some Democrats voted with Republicans to block the rules.

"The House and Senate hold Russian show trials on vital environmental issues and there’s no pushback at all from the environmental community?" he wrote. "Is there no penalty for D apostasy, at least, or shaming of the gas-shilling Rs? Apparently so."

John Quigley
John Quigley. | Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Quigley sent the email from a private account, but it made its way to legislators in Harrisburg, including state Sen. John Yudichak, one of the Democrats who has voted with Republicans on environmental issues.

The green groups ran ads in the home districts of Yudichak and another legislator, criticizing them for siding with Republicans on environmental issues.

"Governor Wolf made a quick and appropriate decision in accepting the resignation of DEP Secretary John Quigley," Yudichak wrote in a statement on Facebook. "Secretary Quigley demonstrated poor judgment and a clear inability to work with legislators to advance the governor’s environmental agenda."

Speaking on behalf of the NRDC Action Fund, Jackson Morris said actions taken by the environmental community in Pennsylvania are not influenced by public officials.

"The NRDC Action Fund holds public officials accountable when they vote the wrong way on the environment. The work we just completed in Pennsylvania is just the most recent example of that," Morris said. "The action fund and NRDC — we take it seriously that public officials need to be held accountable.

"That’s us doing our job, we’ve done it for 40 years."