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Abruzzo lays out experience, background to be DEP's leader

Secretary also addresses climate-change comments

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E. Christopher Abruzzo is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
E. Christopher Abruzzo is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. - (Photo / Submitted)

The state Senate last month confirmed Gov. Tom Corbett's choice, E. Christopher Abruzzo, as secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

One of the things Abruzzo said he has learned as a member of the "regulated community" — a term he used to reference his time as a supervisor in Derry Township — is that the unintended consequences of policy and regulation that environmental regulators put in place typically are what cause industry to struggle.

"We've shifted (at DEP) the paradigm a little bit to make sure we are examining not only the intended consequences but also the unintended consequences. And if we do that well, then we really do create a win-win," he said.

Abruzzo served as acting secretary of the department for most of 2013.

Q: Please tell me a little bit about your background before your nomination to become secretary of DEP, and how has that prepared you for the job you've now been confirmed to do?

A: I was very involved with a lot of the development of this agency (as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Tom Corbett) ... including a lot of the public policy that we developed.

I really became very familiar with the workings of the agency, the staff of the agency, and really the subject matter that all of the many people who work here at DEP work on.

During this same period of time as I served as a prosecutor and later as a deputy chief of staff, I had been serving as a township supervisor in Derry Township (in Dauphin County), and ... I had the unique opportunity to be part of the regulated community that DEP oversees … so I've seen DEP from both sides.

On a personal level, what has your interest in environmental protection been?

It's not a stretch when I say that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania helped really power an industrial revolution. And we did it through coal … and if you travel around Pennsylvania, you'll see a lot of the scars of the past, a lot of those environmental scars.

Our grandparents, without truly understanding the impacts of what they were doing, really left for us an environmental legacy that has its problems. We're still trying to correct those problems.

And it's really incumbent upon us at the department — and I'll relate it to the oil and gas industry — to make sure the new industry that is booming now in Pennsylvania, that we make sure we regulate that industry properly so we don't leave environmental scars or environmental problems for our children and grandchildren to clean up. And so I'm excited to be a part of that.

You have taken some flak for your comments on climate change in your state Senate confirmation testimony. Could you tell me your position and any clarification to your comments that is necessary?

I'll start by saying I stand by all of the things I said, except I would say that I could have articulated more clearly my point on the impacts (from climate change) based on the studies that I had read. I think it was a combination of the way the question was delivered and in terms of the complexity of the answer — I just didn't answer it well. ... I do acknowledge there are impacts.

I did reference the fact that I thought Pennsylvania was doing its fair share, if not more than its fair share, and I feel very strongly about that. We have been working very hard in Pennsylvania over the last 20 years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I clearly believe there are impacts, and sometimes it gets difficult as it relates to some impacts — which are caused by the man-made factors and which are caused by the natural, sort of, evolution of our planet? — but clearly there are (climate change) impacts that are man-made.

Here's a devil's advocate question because you are an environmental regulator and we are a business journal: Make the case to businesses that environmental regulation is needed.

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.

I don't think being a good business, or being in industry or successful in industry, and being a good environmental steward are mutually exclusive concepts anymore.

About Christopher Abruzzo

E. Christopher Abruzzo is a graduate of St. Joseph’s University and the Widener University School of Law.

He spent about two decades as a prosecutor with the Dauphin County District Attorney’s Office and the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, then became deputy chief of staff for Gov. Tom Corbett as he came into office in 2011.

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey

Brent Burkey covers York County, agribusiness, energy and environment, and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at brentb@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @brentburkey.

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