There’s a famous quote variously attributed to either Mark Twain or Winston Churchill to wit: A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.
Right now, no one knows that better than John Quigley who resigned as Department of Environmental Protection Secretary on Friday. Full disclosure – John is a friend of mine. I worked with him at PennFuture and we collaborated on several projects as independent consultants. I have known and admired John and his work for more than a decade.
John is smart, courageous, forthright, fair and pragmatic. He adheres to no straitjacket ideology, and makes decisions based on facts. He is a skilled administrator committed to serving the interests of the public. He makes himself accessible and understands that transparency in the workings of government is the best way to combat public cynicism and build public trust. He is, in short, an excellent public servant.
Quigley was brought down by a vicious, successful smear campaign aided by shoddy reporting of half-truths and outright lies that journalists did not bother to verify. The smear was orchestrated by Senator John Yudicak who was attempting to divert public attention away from his votes to kill regulations that strengthen and modernize oversight of gas drilling and his vote to block Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The kernel of truth at the center of the smear is that after the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee overwhelmingly approved the bills to undermine environmental protections, Quigley sent a blunt email to environmental advocates urging them to step up their efforts to support the new gas drilling regulations and the Clean Power Plan. Lies and innuendo then got layered around that kernel portraying Quigley as personally directing a campaign to inform Senator Yudicak’s constituents of his anti-environmental votes.
When contacted by reporters environmental organizations attempted to set the record straight, but their truthful assertions that Quigley had no role in the public education campaign informing Yudicak’s voters of his actions were characterized by the press as “denials.” Classic – when did you stop beating your wife.
Stories containing the false allegations citing “unnamed sources” jumped from newspaper to newspaper like a wildfire jumping fire lines. The heat became too intense, and Quigley burned at the stake.
Senator Yudicak, along with too many of our legislators, has been herded by the gas drillers onto a protect-gas-drilling-at-all-costs reservation. The senator, savoring his victory, said that “…Quigley was simply off the reservation.” With Quigley gone, he now expects DEP to be more reasonable in its regulation of the gas drillers.
Pennsylvania lost a courageous, principled public servant. And we’ll now get gas drilling regulations that the drillers approve. The rest of us will just have to live with them.