McGinty ponders run for Pa. governor, elevating environmental issues in contest

The emerging field of would-be challengers looking to unseat beleaguered first-term Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) -- one of Democrats' top state targets in the 2014 cycle -- now looks likely to include two former state environmental officials.

A former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Kathleen McGinty, established an exploratory committee earlier this month, throwing her name into a pool of more than a half-dozen other Democrats contemplating bids.

If she opts in to the contest, she'll join a field that already includes her successor, former DEP Secretary John Hanger. Hanger, who announced his bid late last year, is one of only two Democrats with official campaigns.

Whether the presence of both former state officials would create divisions within the environmental community remains to be seen -- particularly given the host of potential candidates with relatively strong conservation records, including Rep. Allyson Schwartz, ex-Rep. Joe Sestak and state Treasurer Rob McCord. But Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania Executive Director Josh McNeil said the duo will undoubtedly bring more attention to issues including water quality and renewable energy, along with natural gas drilling, during the course of the campaign.

"It absolutely benefits the discussion," McNeil said, later adding: "They're going to ensure the Democratic primary involves a substantive discussion around a number of environmental issues. The most important one will be how the state will handle the natural gas influx."


Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director Jeff Schmidt declined to discuss potential candidates specifically but said he expects climate change policy to garner significant attention in the race.

"We think that candidates need to address the challenge of climate change, climate disruption, and make it clear what they are willing to do to mitigate the impacts," Schmidt said, referring in particular to calls from the environmental movement to deal with methane emissions tied to the state's natural gas drilling industry. "The current administration is not willing to acknowledge the serious problems."

Hanger, who now serves as special counsel at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, has voiced public support for gas development but has also made new "reasonable taxes" on the industry a piece of his gubernatorial platform. He has likewise proposed an ombudsman's office to investigate citizen complaints tied to gas drilling.

The current administration "has refused to establish a natural gas tax sufficient to pay for the impact of industry development on infrastructure and existing rural industries, as well as support essential educational and environmental investments," Hanger states on his campaign website. "Underlying the administration's positions is an extremism that combines hostility to government with uncritical embrace of deep-pockets political contributors."

Hanger, who has also served as commissioner of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, is an advocate of renewable energy sources, calling for an update to the state's Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard to increase the use of renewable energy sources.

He has also proposed a $1 billion bond initiative to upgrade the state's water, sewer and flood infrastructure.

McGinty hasn't publicly discussed her potential candidacy, much less what proposals she could back, but the Philadelphia native does boast a hefty resume that speaks to her political acumen.

McGinty, who was rumored as a potential nominee to lead U.S. EPA in both 2008 and 2012, served as an aide to then-Sen. Al Gore (D-Tenn.) before going on to chair the White House Council on Environmental Quality under then-President Clinton in the early 1990s.

Then-Gov. Ed Rendell (D) in 2003 appointed McGinty to be Pennsylvania's environment secretary, a post she held for five years.

During her tenure, McGinty pushed for reductions in mercury pollution from power plants as well as a series of watershed protections.

McGinty now serves as senior vice president and managing director at Weston Solutions Inc., where she oversees the firm's "Green Development" business to redevelop and remediate real estate.

She also is on the boards of both NRG Energy Inc. and Iberdrola USA, a gas and electric utility that serves upstate New York and New England. And she served on the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board Natural Gas Subcommittee, which finished its work in late 2011.

If most of the rumored candidates remain in the race, the Democratic primary could be bruising. Even though she has not officially declared her bid, Schwartz, who was just elected to her fifth term in Congress, is emerging as the favorite of much of the state and national Democratic establishment, with the political powerhouse EMILY's List already promoting her nascent bid.

Since the late 1940s in Pennsylvania, Republicans and Democrats have traded control of the governorship every eight years, suggesting Corbett will be re-elected -- but only if the trend holds. Recent polls have shown the Republican incumbent to be shaky, at best.

A Public Policy Polling survey taken March 8-10 showed Corbett trailing five potential Democratic challengers in hypothetical matchups, including Hanger, by 4 to 12 points (McGinty was not included in the poll). Just two months earlier, the PPP survey showed Corbett ahead of all Democrats.

"At this point Tom Corbett looks like the most endangered governor in the country up for re-election next year," said PPP President Dean Debnam.

Click here to watch McGinty's visit to E&ETV's OnPoint in 2005.

Click here to watch her OnPoint visit in 2008.

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