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DEP secretary's email prior to departure used expletives, taunts

HARRISBURG - In the controversial email that helped fuel his resignation last week, Gov. Wolf's top environmental officer used expletives and taunts to needle advocates into actively lobbying for changes in gas drilling and other environmental protection regulations, according to a copy of the message obtained by the Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

John Quigley, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
John Quigley, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.Read moreFile photograph

HARRISBURG - In the controversial email that helped fuel his resignation last week, Gov. Wolf's top environmental officer used expletives and taunts to needle advocates into actively lobbying for changes in gas drilling and other environmental protection regulations, according to a copy of the message obtained by the Inquirer and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"Where the f- were you people yesterday?" John Quigley, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, wrote on April 13 to environmental groups. "The House and Senate hold Russian show trials on vital environmental issues and there's no pushback at all from the environmental community? Nobody bothering to insert themselves in the news cycle?"

He asked: "Is there no penalty for [Democratic] apostasy, at least, or shaming of the gas-shilling [Republicans]?"

The unusually blunt email was a factor, if not the final straw, that led to Quigley's sudden resignation late Friday afternoon, according to a source familiar with his decision.

It came as Wolf was weighing whether the email demonstrated that Quigley, who already had strained relationships with Republican legislators as well as his fellow Democrats in the administration, had allowed his objectivity to become clouded.

A longtime environmental activist before taking office, Quigley has remained unavailable and out of public view since the email details surfaced last week. He could not be reached again Monday.

But his supporters rushed to his defense, saying that his resignation was unwarranted and that he had been railroaded by special interests.

In the email, sent from a private account, Quigley expressed frustration about delays in updates he wanted in the state's oil and gas drilling regulations as well as in clean air regulations. The changes have been a point of contention between industry officials and environmental groups.

Shortly after receiving the email, advocacy groups including PennFuture, PennEnvironment, and a group affiliated with the Natural Resources Defense Council began running print and radio ads urging an end to some of the delays.

The ads took aim at Sen. John Yudichak of Luzerne County, the ranking Democrat on the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. Angered by the ads, Yudichak asked Wolf to determine whether they were prompted by Quigley's email.

Quigley's email did not single out legislators, or call for specific lobbying or ad campaigns. But it reflected a bare-knuckled attempt to browbeat the environmental community into action.

"Do some of you think that staying on your moratorium hobby horse does anything to advance the cause of protecting the environment and public health?" Quigley wrote. "Do you really think the Governor will veto this s - with no support?"

He added: "The environmental community is without influence in Harrisburg. What will you do about it?"

Longtime environmental activist Jan Jarrett said Monday that she believed Quigley's "sin" - an angry email that showed his passion for regulations to improve the health of Pennsylvania residents - did not warrant the punishment.

"People who know him know he can be blunt," said Jarrett, the former head of PennFuture, who worked with Quigley when he worked at the environmental group. "Yes, the language is inappropriate. But if that is the worst thing a cabinet official ever does . . . we'd all be in better shape."

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of PennFuture, who received Quigley's email, said the secretary's message did not prompt the group to take out its ad.

Instead, he said, the group was following its strategy of pushing back against what it sees as improper encroachment on the rule-making process of the executive branch.

"In my view, the secretary's email reflects his personal frustrations, but to my knowledge, it did not influence anyone's judgment on what we should or should not be doing," Schweiger said.

The email landed last month as the legislature was considering delaying action on changes to clean-air and oil and gas drilling regulations.

The Senate is considering extending the amount of time legislators can take to review changes to regulations that would require a reduction in power plant carbon emissions. Yudichak joined all but one Democrat in voting with Republicans on the Environmental Resources and Energy committee to send the measure to the Senate.

At the same time, the DEP for years has been formulating wide-ranging revisions to oil and gas drilling regulations that include adding protections for public resources near well sites and improving standards for cleaning up spills.

Industry representatives contend that the regulations would be unnecessary and expensive, while environmental and citizen groups have pushed for greater protections.

In a split vote last month, the state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved the update. But a House committee voted this month to block the new rules. That tactic needs approval by the full House and Senate to stop the changes.

acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934@AngelasInk