Mike Krancer, director of the state Department of Environmental Protection who often sparred with federal regulators, state legislators and environmental groups, will resign April 15.
Gov. Tom Corbett's office announced the resignation Friday. Mr. Corbett, who appointed Mr. Krancer to his Cabinet in January 2011, praised him for taking the department "back to basics," reorganizing it, and overseeing the permit review process and the permit decision guarantee, which the governor said made the DEP's permitting process more consistent and efficient.
"I appreciate Mike's unwavering commitment to this job, knowing that it took him away from spending quality time with his wife and children," Mr. Corbett said. "While I am sorry to lose his expertise in the administration, I am glad this is an opportunity for him to go back home."
Prior to his DEP appointment, Mr. Krancer, 55, of Bryn Mawr, Montgomery County, was chief judge on the state's Environmental Hearing Board and an unsuccessful candidate for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007. He will rejoin his former law firm, Blank Rome LLP, an international law and lobbying firm that has clients in the natural gas industry, as a partner in its Philadelphia office and will chair the firm's energy, petrochemical and natural resources practice.
Kathryn Klaber, chief executive officer of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying organization, said Mr. Krancer's regulatory approach has emphasized "constructiveness and pragmatism" to good effect.
"Under his leadership, Pennsylvania has implemented world-class regulatory requirements for the industry, and responsible natural gas production has soared, resulting in more local jobs, cleaner air and strengthened American energy security," Ms. Klaber said.
But Mr. Krancer's management style made him few friends among Democratic legislators, environmentalists and even some DEP staffers, as he sought to concentrate enforcement power within a small circle of administrators in Harrisburg.
Just two months after he was appointed, he required department field inspectors and regional directors to get approval from his office before issuing Marcellus Shale drilling permits, enforcing regulations or issuing violation notices.
Staffers internally criticized the policy, and a DEP administrator had to send an apology to regional directors for the "significant confusion and consternation" it caused.
Also in March 2011, and without public notice, Mr. Krancer gave top administrators in Harrisburg sole power to approve violation notices and enforcement actions in cases involving other state or federal agencies.
And in September 2012 -- again without public notice -- he transferred decisions from field offices to Harrisburg administrators about when property owners should be notified of water well contamination related to Marcellus Shale operations.
Mr. Krancer also has been criticized for the incomplete reporting of well water test results to property owners, and recently for being evasive at a state House appropriations committee meeting when questioned about his views on climate change and its human causes.
"Gov. Corbett now has an opportunity to appoint a qualified and appropriate leader who understands the risk of climate disruption and will protect the air our kids breathe and the water our families drink," said Jeff Schmidt, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter director.
Mr. Krancer chaffed at scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which in May 2011 requested that the DEP do a better job of sampling, monitoring and regulating Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater discharges near public drinking water sources.
The EPA and Mr. Krancer also clashed over the federal agency's involvement in assessing water contamination related to shale gas drilling in Dimock, Susquehanna County, in January 2012. Mr. Krancer wrote that the EPA's understanding of the well water contamination issues there was "rudimentary."
The DEP justified all of those changes in the name of enforcement consistency, but his judicial temperament and need for control played a role, too, said George Jugovic Jr., an attorney who was DEP southwest region director in the Rendell administration. He now is president and CEO of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, an environmental organization.
"He likes being judge, and that's how he approached decisions at the agency," Mr. Jugovic said. "The secretary should be setting policy at the 10,000-foot level, not be down in the weeds, adjudicating decisions about enforcement in Washington County."
John Hanger, DEP secretary under former Gov. Ed Rendell and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor, said Marcellus Shale gas regulation has suffered under the Corbett administration and the DEP has been demoralized under Mr. Krancer.
"Morale at DEP is at devastatingly low levels," Mr. Hanger said. "Corbett's DEP has failed to adequately regulate gas drilling and taken combative stances when citizens present the agency with legitimate concerns and problems."
Mr. Krancer is the third Cabinet secretary to resign during the past several months.
The public welfare director, Gary Alexander, resigned last month. And in October, Health Secretary Eli N. Avila quit his post after less than two years in the job.
G. Terry Madonna, a Franklin and Marshall College professor and pollster, said businessmen who join government tend to move on more frequently than career politicians, but noted, too, that the DEP secretary has been an extremely high-profile position in recent years.
"There isn't any doubt the DEP job is one of the three or four most highly visible and controversial Cabinet positions," Mr. Madonna said, particularly during periods of expanding energy and conservation efforts. "Now we have another energy expansion with Marcellus Shale, which has all led into a myriad of controversies," he said.
E. Christopher Abruzzo, deputy chief of staff for the governor, was appointed acting DEP secretary. The governor's news release announcing the change said Mr. Abruzzo has worked closely with Mr. Krancer and the DEP staff in his position as deputy chief of staff and would hold both positions until a successor is named.
Don Hopey: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983. Karen Langley contributed to this report.