DEP pick confirmed in Pa., leaving lawmakers to squabble

     Governor Corbett's nominee, Chris Abruzzo, was confirmed as head of the DEP (Marie Cusick/for StateImpact Pennsylvania)

    Governor Corbett's nominee, Chris Abruzzo, was confirmed as head of the DEP (Marie Cusick/for StateImpact Pennsylvania)

    Gov. Tom Corbett’s pick to oversee Pennsylvania’s 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’ rage-ometers ringing last week when he told a Senate panel that he’s not sure climate change is a threat to humans.

    Climate scientists have repeatedly sounded warning bells about the effect of a warming climate on humans 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.

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    “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.”

    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.”

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