Their View: Wolf has put environmentalists in control

Gov. Tom Wolf is putting PennFuture — two giant foundations representing but two families — in charge of every major environmental and land-use decision in Pennsylvania. I have more than four decades of public service as a state legislator and later as a U.S. congressman, and over that time I have never seen a radical environmental organization gain that much power in state government.

It is nothing less than astounding. Our commonwealth is now being run as the fiefdom of an urban gentry class that threatens to deprive rural Pennsylvanians of their livelihood and ultimately undermine the entire state economy. They are opposed to most of what rural Pennsylvanians do for a living. Rural Pennsylvania, in fact, has experienced heavy population loss due to policies pushed by radical environmental interests from southeast Pennsylvania for far too long. They need to be reined in.

I watched with great alarm as Wolf put not one, not two, but three PennFuture principals in key positions that, together, give this entity the ability to throttle all economic development in this commonwealth. He made one former PennFuture executive, John Hanger, his policy director; put another, Cindy Dunn, in charge of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and wants John Quigley, a PennFuture lobbyist, as his secretary of environmental protection. This is an outrageous degree of involvement and control by a special interest organization.

PennFuture was created through the efforts of the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation. These are two large and very private organizations controlled by the Heinz and Haas families who, combined, have nearly $4 billion in assets to spend on shaping Pennsylvania to their liking. What they like most definitely doesn’t include more development in rural areas — or much economic development at all.

Their PennFuture joint venture has resulted in an organization that opposes agriculture, coal, natural gas, oil (an industry born in Pennsylvania), timber and pretty much any other development. It fights rural municipalities to halt zoning that might allow these activities, and it closely coordinates with other special-interest no-growth groups funded by the Heinz and Haas families that would willingly consign rural Pennsylvania to “pastoral poverty.” It appears that is their objective, in fact.

It’s time for our legislators to speak up and take action to stop this usurpation of government. No anti-growth special interest should have three hands on the levers of power over Pennsylvania’s future. The PennFuture vision should not be imposed autocratically. If the governor wants John Hanger, he will have him, as the policy director position is not subject to Senate confirmation. Cindy Dunn will need Senate confirmation to lead DCNR, but her position is not nearly as important as the DEP secretary.

Does John Quigley possess the temperament and objectivity to serve as DEP secretary? His report on behalf of the radical EarthJustice organization, which he helped to fight much-needed pipelines, said this:

“The wave of natural gas development that is sweeping over Pennsylvania will have profound economic and environmental impacts on the commonwealth. As a former policymaker and leader of the agency of state government charged with being the chief steward of the Pennsylvania’s natural resources, and having studied the issues carefully, I am convinced the cumulative impacts of the Marcellus play will dwarf all of Pennsylvania’s previous waves of resource extraction — oil, timber, and coal mining — combined.”

Those are the words of man who seems to believe the things that built our commonwealth, provided jobs, fed families and created our heritage were all bad and shouldn’t be repeated. His alliances suggest he’s ultimately opposed to them all and only avoids saying so directly because he knows going that far might disqualify him for office. If so, he should not be DEP secretary, and our legislators need to deny this appointment. The future of rural Pennsylvania is at stake.