Energy has always been a star player in Pennsylvania's economy — from the vast coal fields and the first oil wells of the 19th and 20th centuries to the Marcellus Shale today.
For that reason, the person at the helm of the Department of Environmental Protection has a critical role in balancing the development of Pennsylvania's resources with the state's future viability. Lean too far one way and business is stifled; lean too far the other and future generations are left to remediate as best they can the resulting environmental damage.
E. Christopher Abruzzo, confirmed as DEP secretary last month, seems to understand that.
"No matter what we do for a living, no matter who we are, we all need clean air, clean water and, really, clean natural resources. ... And we all benefit from it. We all have a moral obligation to make sure we aren't destroying our environmental resources," he tells the Business Journal in an interview that begins on page 1.
Abruzzo came in for considerable criticism from environmentalists during his confirmation hearings, when he appeared to dance around the question of global warming. He says now that he gave a less-than-clear answer to a less-than-clear question. His position — sensible, in our view — is that while climate change is occurring, it is a complex interaction of natural and human factors.
More important, he says, is that the immediate environmental impacts of human activity are recognized and mitigated — something previous generations, eager to mine and drill, didn't fully understand.
Abruzzo comes into office with experience as acting secretary and also as a local elected official, which should be a powerful combination of insight and pragmatism. He also will be facing unexpected challenges, foremost among them last week's state Supreme Court decision rolling back parts of Act 13.
That law, enacted in 2012, was intended to create some predictability for the oil and gas industry by barring local municipalities from imposing their own rules on top of state regulations. Now it looks like the General Assembly will be going back to the drawing board to craft a constitutionally acceptable law.
The Marcellus Shale play in Pennsylvania is vast and rich, but it also faces competition from a growing number of states eager to exploit their own deposits of natural gas. If the state presents too many obstacles, drillers will go elsewhere.
Abruzzo's leadership will be crucial in resolving this issue. But it looks like he's starting with the right point of view. <