State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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DEP pick confirmed, as expected, leaving lawmakers to squabble

Written by Mary Wilson, Former Capitol Bureau Chief | Dec 10, 2013 6:13 PM

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Gov. Corbett's pick for the position of overseeing the Department of Environmental Protection sailed through Senate confirmation Tuesday afternoon, though the vote was preceded with a rehash of the nominee's comments on climate change - as well as a few barbs exchanged on the Senate floor.

Chris Abruzzo, who has been acting secretary of DEP since March, set certain liberals' outrage-ometers ringing last week when he told a Senate panel that he's not sure climate change is a threat to humans.

From StateImpactPA:

"I've not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude there are adverse impacts to human beings, animals, or plant life at this small level of climate change," Abruzzo said.

Abruzzo told the committee he does believe climate change is occurring and that it seems to be at least partially attributable to human factors, but he does not view it as harmful and sees no reason for Pennsylvania to adopt new policies to address it.

"I think Pennsylvania's already doing at least its fair share, if not more than its fair share," he said. "Climate change is a global issue."

Climate scientists have repeatedly sounded warning bells about the effect of a warming climate on both mankind and ecosystems.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery), one of the most outspoken liberal Democrats in the chamber, was the one who first asked the climate change question in past meetings. He called the comment proof positive of the insufficient qualifications of Corbett's nominee. Abruzzo hasn't been focused on environmental issues for long. He was previously a top aide to the governor and has spent most of his career as a prosecutor.

"It's important that a DEP secretary have someone, in my view, who has some understand of this most technical area of the law and some demonstrated history and passion for this," Leach said.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati went to bat for Abruzzo.

"We should not be deemed unfit to serve simply because we may not agree entirely with the strongly held view of some in this chamber and elsewhere," Scarnati said. "As a matter of fact, anyone who has ventured outdoors the past few days may very well have good reason to disagree with that point of view."

It had been snowing in Harrisburg, off and on, for the past two days.

Leach returned to the mic on the Senate floor to respond.

"A cold day does not mean that climate change is not happening," he said. "In fact, there is a difference between weather and climate."

Abruzzo was confirmed, as expected, and now gets to drop the word "acting" from his formal title DEP secretary (the House does not vote on the governor's political appointments). The vote was 42-8. Leach was out on a lonely limb: most of the Democratic leadership voted to confirm Abruzzo. Part of what's going on here is the same thing that dominates the ethos on the typical kickball field when captains are selecting players. There's an institutional respect for the principle that the governor gets to pick the members of his own cabinet.

"He is entitled to have his team around him," said Leach. "I have voted for every nominee that governor Corbett has put forward... There are occasions, however, when I believe it is important to vote against a nominee in compelling circumstances."

Scarnati accused Leach of using ad hominem tactics.

"I find it very unfortunate that some individuals have taken to personal attacks against Mr. Abruzzo," said Scarnati, "Some, to just advance their own political campaigns."

Leach is running for Congress. He had begun his floor remarks with the caveat that his no-vote "has no reflection on Mr. Abruzzo as a person." He refuted the notion that he was only trying to raise his political profile.

"Anyone who's noticed me at all knows I'm a pain in the butt when I'm running for something and when I'm not running for something," Leach said. "It makes no difference."

This entry has been updated since its original posting. 

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