Pa. environment secretary's nomination advances

A state Senate committee voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend that the acting secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection be confirmed to the post he has been filling for nearly a year.

Patrick McDonnell, a veteran DEP employee, has led the agency since last May when the previous secretary, John Quigley, resigned. Gov. Tom Wolf nominated Mr. McDonnell to become secretary in September.

At his confirmation hearing in Harrisburg, Mr. McDonnell said he is focused on re-evaluating the agency’s priorities and processes to make sure DEP is fulfilling its obligations despite limited resources.

The agency has increasingly turned to permit fees to fund its programs and is now concerned with Trump administration proposals to cut federal environmental funds, which make up 30 percent of the state DEP budget.

“The types of impacts that we would see would send us exactly in the wrong direction” in terms of items that the Senate committee members named as priorities, such as improving turnaround times for earthmoving permits and increasing inspection coverage of public drinking water systems, he said.

Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Venango, like other members of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, praised Mr. McDonnell’s performance leading the agency, but he questioned whether other agency employees are committed to the same vision. He asked Mr. McDonnell if he would be comfortable “weeding out rogue people or rogue ideas.”

Mr. McDonnell said DEP staff members have been frustrated by needing to take on new responsibilities as other positions are lost. His message, he said, is, “What, given our resources, do we need to be focused on? What has the greatest environmental impact? What kind of pieces can we let go?”

The nomination now goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Laura Legere:

First Published May 9, 2017 1:07 PM

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