John Quigley, who served as the state’s conservation and natural resources secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, could soon oversee regulation of the state’s massive Marcellus and Utica shale plays as Gov.-elect Tom Wolf’s pick for environmental protection secretary.
Quigley currently works as a sustainable development consultant, but he has a long and varied resume: mayor of Hazleton, Luzerne County; government relations manager for Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture); and various posts inside the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
During his previous stint in a cabinet position, he oversaw the creation of the state and the nation’s first high-resolution digital statewide map, which has been used by various private companies and state agencies.
Both he and Wolf’s conservation secretary pick, Cindy Dunn, are affiliated with the environmental advocacy group PennFuture. As such, they may face opposition from energy lobbyists and conservative legislators during the confirmation process.
Quigley took a few minutes this week to answer questions from PennLive.
Why did you accept this appointment?
Certainly with this governor and the changes he wants to make, it’s extremely exciting for me personally to be in this position. I’m grateful for the opportunity and I’m committed to executing what the governor wants to get done for Pennsylvania.
It seems like there will be a tough balancing act you’ll be leading: Encouraging economic development through things like natural gas extraction and also regulating it. What does Pennsylvania have to do?
The history of this state, I think, has been defined by the tension between economic growth and environmental protection. I think it’s a fair statement to say that, in large measure, we have not gotten it right in the past. There have been waves of resource extraction that range from drilling the first oil well to how we timbered over the Northern Tier to the discovery and development of coal resources. We haven’t gotten it right yet, in my estimation. We have an enormous opportunity to do that now across the board, but specifically with this latest wave of resource extraction, being Marcellus Shale.
I think there’s a real opportunity to get this play right. We’re not there yet, but we can get there, and we have to take advantage, as (Wolf) has said, of the enormous economic benefits of this play. It’s getting the balance right, getting the economic vitality that this industry promises and protecting human health and the environment. I think we can do that.
Right now, there are ambitious plans to cut back on methane and carbon emissions. What do you think the impact of possible federal regulations will be?
The regulations will probably be announced in the summer. Some of the measures are actually voluntary, but there’s been a lot of great work done by organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund that have identified, literally, a handful of pieces of equipment where most of the leakage is occurring from. They’ve identified, I think in every case, that fixing those leaks is cost-effective or will pay for itself in a very short of time and would add a minimal amount — like pennies — to the price of natural gas.
We’re in a low-price regime now, but we’re not going to be in a low-price regime forever, so the excuse that we can’t afford it, our profits are down — this too, shall pass. As the infrastructure catches up with the development, with the drilling, you’ll see a rebound because the gas will flow to where the demand is greatest and the price will come back. So, we need to be in this for the long-term and we need to look at it in the long-term and put in place the common-sense, cost-effect measures to ensure we’re not damaging the climate any further through the development of the resource. I think there’s a path forward and win-win opportunities to do that.
Do you think you will have a tough time in confirmation and what happens in that case?
I have no idea. The governor and I certainly respect the process, the members of the Senate, look forward to answering their questions and dealing with any questions that they have. I will be very honest and direct and we’ll see how the process plays out. But I’m looking forward to that process and having that dialogue.