At forum, state DEP secretaries serve as campaign surrogates


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The guest speaker closing Monday's Consumer Energy Alliance summit on Pennsylvania energy didn't mince words when it came to White House policy.

President Barack Obama is overseeing a "rogue and hubristic" Environmental Protection Agency that displayed unprecedented "hostility" in an all-out "war on fossil fuels," the speaker said, adding that Mr. Obama's Republican rival, Gov. Mitt Romney, has the better plan for how to extract the natural gas and oil found in shale deposits in Pennsylvania and across the country.

It was a dramatic first appearance for the Romney campaign's newest surrogate: Michael Krancer, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection who took the day off from being the Keystone State's top environmental regulator so he could campaign for the Republican presidential nominee.

Meanwhile, Mr. Krancer's counterpart at the event was his predecessor in the job. John Hanger, who served as DEP secretary from 2008 to 2011, took on the job of representing the Obama campaign at the South Side event.

The gathering is one of several being held in election battleground states by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a Houston-based energy industry group. About 60 people, most representing industry efforts, filled the crowd at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Circuit Center.

Mr. Hanger, who now works at the Eckert Seamans law firm in Harrisburg, said he had never served as a campaign surrogate while heading the Department of Environmental Protection under Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell but he has since become a frequent commentator on shale gas issues.

The department he left before Republican Gov. Tom Corbett assumed office has become increasingly politicized when it comes to how the state handles natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale rock formation. Environmental activists have targeted the DEP in calling for stricter regulation of the industry, and the Corbett administration is currently locked in a lawsuit with local municipalities that want to retain control of how the operations are zoned.

The state's natural gas development has put Pennsylvania in the middle of a debate that intersects energy policy with national security and the role of the federal government. Mr. Hanger said the presidential candidates in this year's election offer "two distinct energy paths."

He touted the president's "all of the above" energy policy, a portfolio he said includes investments in wind and solar operations. Mr. Krancer countered that the president's policy was better described as "nothing but what's above the ground."

President Obama has included shale gas development as part of his energy policy portfolio since the last State of the Union address in January, but the federal Environmental Protection Agency has recently come under fire for issuing new coal and gas regulations that critics say prohibit job growth.

The EPA is currently conducting a study on the effects of hydraulic fracturing at sites that include locations in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Krancer said the regulation of fracking, as the process is sometimes called, should be left to the states.

"The state has forgotten more about hydraulic fracturing than the federal government will ever know," he said.

The meeting between the former and current secretaries injected partisanship into what had been a tame event, with state and city officials expressing support for safe gas drilling and the jobs it brings.

One official said every well employs 93 different professions in the drilling cycle. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl dropped by to express his support for gas extraction, despite a City Council vote in 2010 that instituted a symbolic ban on hydraulic fracturing in the city.

Mr. Hanger's appearance at Monday's summit was announced late last week, but the Romney campaign didn't announce Mr. Krancer's surrogacy until late Sunday night.

The Consumer Energy Alliance had reached out to the Obama administration about sending Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, but the White House legal department said she couldn't campaign while serving in an official advisory capacity.

Mr. Hanger said his appointment came with a "significant briefing" by the Obama campaign on how to serve as a representative, and he was shadowed by a campaign representative after the speech. When an audience member asked about trade regulations, Mr. Hanger prefaced his response by saying he was answering as himself and not speaking for the president since the question didn't concern energy matters.

Mr. Krancer took off work for the campaigning, but said afterward his message of less federal regulation worked on a state level, as well.

"I think if you'd ask Gov. Corbett, he'd be saying the same thing," he said.

businessnews

Erich Schwartzel: eschwartzel@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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