Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell, a 19-year veteran of the department, took on what observers say is one of the state’s most challenging cabinet positions when he was named to replace John Quigley, who resigned on May 20 after only 16 months in office.
Quigley left following controversy over an angry email he sent to some environmental groups in April, which accused them of failing to exert a strong influence in Harrisburg. He sent it one day after lawmakers rejected new oil and gas regulations he had championed.
If Quigley, a former advocate with the environmental group PennFuture, seemed too close to the green community, observers expect his successor to chart a smoother course through the turbulent waters of Pennsylvania’s energy politics.
Rob Altenburg, director of the PennFuture Energy Center, and a former colleague of McDonnell’s at the DEP, said the new acting secretary has long experience of technical issues ranging from fracking to pipelines and carbon emissions, as well as of senior administrative roles such as budgeting, and is likely to take a less adversarial position than Quigley did.
In speaking with a few people in the oil and gas industry, they feel that McDonnell could be the right person for the right job and the right time. He’s very knowledgeable of the environmental issues as well as the industry issues and seems to have the skills work with both parties to arrive solutions that work.
Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry is facing challenging times with the depressed price of NatGas and securing approvals for pipelines to move PA’s constrained NatGas to markets that can really use lower NatGas prices like great New York City area and all of New England. I’m sure McDonnell is well aware of this and realizes the importance of the oil and gas industry to PA’s economy.
It remains to be seen whether Governor Tom Wolf formally nominates McDonnell to be the permanent secretary of the DEP or does Wolf keep him in the position as acting secretary of DEP. Governor Wolf made the right decision with Quigley’s situation. Let’s hope he’ll make another and nominate McDonnell for the position permanently.