Abruzzo, Ferretti affirmed for Corbett cabinet

| Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

One of Pennsylvania's newest environmental regulation officials received a rare show of opposition during his confirmation spurred by a weeklong controversy regarding his opinions on climate change.

The state Senate voted 42-8 on Tuesday to confirm Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's nomination of Chris Abruzzo as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and voted unanimously to confirm Ellen Ferretti as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The opposition votes on Abruzzo's nomination came from Democrats, including Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, and Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park.

At Abruzzo's confirmation hearing last week, Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery County, pressed him to share his thoughts on climate change.

Abruzzo replied that he had “not read any scientific studies that would lead me to conclude there are adverse impacts to human beings, animals or plant life at this small level of climate change.” He said the state was doing “its fair share” to confront climate change.

Confirmations require a simple majority vote by the state Senate. Such votes are typically unanimous. Smith said he usually defers to the administration's nominations, but not this time.

“It was really important to send a message that we need to be more proactive when it comes to addressing climate change,” Smith said. “And I did have concerns with some of Secretary Abruzzo's testimony.”

Valerie Caras, spokeswoman for Corbett's office, said the governor sought the strongest candidates for both positions.

“Both secretaries will continue the strong record and commitment of environmental protection and conservation that Gov. Corbett has championed since day one,” Caras wrote in an email.

Smith said he wants to see the state counteract climate change with environmentally friendly policies, such as regulations that encourage “green buildings,” structures built to produce fewer carbon emissions.

Abruzzo, Corbett's former deputy chief of staff, takes the jobs after eight months as acting secretary. Mike Krancer resigned in March, citing the distance between Harrisburg and his home in Montgomery County.

Ferretti, the DCNR secretary, is a Luzerne County resident with experience in environmental science and land use. Previously, she was deputy secretary for parks and forestry.

Ferretti has served as acting secretary since June, when the administration asked Richard Allan to resign, reportedly because of an inappropriate email Allan sent to his wife referencing another employee.

The confirmations mark the latest turnover in the Corbett cabinet, which has included three chiefs of staff, new legislative and communication directors and several secretaries in the past two years.

Secretary of Health Michael Wolf was confirmed by a unanimous vote in May after the departure of Eli Avila.

In June, former Department of Public Welfare Secretary Beverly Mackereth was confirmed by a unanimous vote, replacing Gary Alexander.

When Department of Education Secretary Ron Tomalis resigned this year, he was replaced by William Harner, a superintendent in a central Pennsylvania school district. Harner was removed from his acting position and replaced by Acting Secretary Carolyn Dumaresq, previously an executive deputy secretary in the department.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or mdaniels@tribweb.com.

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