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Wolf’s environmental protection secretary resigns

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s environmental protection secretary resigned Friday after Wolf’s office began looking into an email the official sent to environmental advocacy groups from a private email address.

Wolf confirmed John Quigley’s resignation in a brief interview with The Associated Press, but he did not explain the reasons behind it. The governor said Quigley did a “fine job” and that an acting secretary, Patrick McDonnell, had been named to the Department of Environmental Protection.

The resignation came hours after the governor’s office disclosed its inquiry into the email. Quigley did not return a telephone message Friday.

Sen. John Yudichak, D-Luzerne, said the email inquiry and Wolf’s removal of Quigley was the culmination of growing complaints about Quigley from state lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Those complaints had targeted Quigley’s unwillingness to discuss issues, accept feedback and strike compromises, including on a slate of new oil and gas industry regulations, said Yudichak, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Quigley, he said, had lost the ability to advance the governor’s agenda and had harbored a personal political agenda outside of the Wolf administration.

“There was a pattern of behavior … that clearly indicated to the governor that John Quigley wasn’t the best person to be the secretary of the DEP,” Yudichak said. “The governor has made that decision, I applaud that decision, he made the right decision and he made it quickly.”

Yudichak said he had not seen the Quigley email in question, sent in April.

In recent weeks, Yudichak became the target of radio and newspaper ads by environmental groups. The ads criticized him for supporting legislation extending the Legislature’s power to seek changes in any Wolf administration plan to comply with federal requirements to curtail greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

David Masur, president of the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment, said Quigley had been a strong advocate for the environment and public health in Harrisburg, “where they often don’t have one.”

“It’s unfortunate that this firestorm of innuendo and what feels like a witch hunt played a role in his departure,” Masur said.

Quigley, 56, a former Hazleton mayor, was the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary from 2009 to 2011 under former Gov. Ed Rendell.

Quigley had propelled the approval of new oil and gas industry regulations that ban drilling companies from storing wastewater in pits and require them to submit an analysis of the potential effect on nearby public water resources and parks before they drill.

Environmental advocacy groups had supported the regulations, while industry officials and many Republican lawmakers had opposed them. Earlier this month, the Wolf administration began discussions with lawmakers about making changes to the new regulations in an effort to ease tensions, Yudichak said.

Meanwhile, the Legislature has repelled Wolf’s effort to raise taxes on the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling industry.

McDonnell, who will serve as the acting secretary, is a longtime top aide in the Department of Environmental Protection and Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

He had been serving Wolf’s office as the director of policy for the department, where he oversaw regulation and policy development. McDonnell also coordinated renewable energy and energy efficiency issues, the administration said in a statement.

Related: Wolf administration to tighten methane rules for drillers.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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