Not good enough: The pick for DEP fails the knowledge test

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Since April, when his predecessor left, E. Christopher Abruzzo has been the acting secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection. Last Wednesday he had a routine confirmation hearing before a Senate committee, but one jarring note disturbed the routine.

Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from Montgomery County, asked the nominee about climate change. He replied: “I have not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude that there are adverse impacts to human beings or to animals or to plant life at this small level of climate change. But I agree there are impacts.”

Mr. Leach declared this “odd” — but odd is the polite word for it. A day earlier, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report on climate change, affirming that its effects are already being felt.

Studies from various sources reaching the same conclusion are now voluminous. Last Thursday, a Post-Gazette op-ed piece co-authored by a former member of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, warned of stress on wildlife due to climate change.

But the person seeking to head the state agency charged with protecting the environment hasn’t read any reports that cause him concern. While it would not be right to call Mr. Abruzzo a climate-change denier, he is a climate-change downplayer.

What’s more, the acting secretary is not a scientist, nor does he have an environmental background. He is an accomplished person who has the favor of Gov. Tom Corbett. He was the governor’s deputy chief of staff and, before that, he spent 15 years as a prosecutor in the attorney general’s office.

This professional experience might qualify a person to lead certain state agencies. But what Mr. Abruzzo said before the Senate environmental committee is disqualifying for the DEP.

The panel was not disturbed enough in its routine to deny him — his nomination was sent to the floor on a 10-1 vote. But the full Senate should not be such a pushover. DEP — and Pennsylvania — deserves a leader more attuned to the threats to the environment.

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