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Rich Negrin, Pa.'s department of environmental protection secretary, has resigned

A man at a podium speaks into a microphone.
Jeremy Long
Pennsylvania Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Rich Negrin speaks at a press conference where it was announced the Shapiro AdministrationÕs commitment to fight climate change under a new EPA climate grant program at SoldierÕs & SailorÕs Grove in Harrisburg on April 14, 2023

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Rich Negrin has resigned for health reasons, according to Manuel Bonder, Gov. Josh Shapiro’s press secretary.

Negrin is on medical leave until Dec. 8, when his resignation takes effect, Bonder said. Jessica Shirley was named acting interim secretary. She had been executive deputy secretary.

Negrin, who was nominated in January, had been on the job officially for about four months. The state Senate confirmed him as DEP secretary on June 27. He got 48 yes votes, one no, and there was one senator absent.

The administration says he was Pennsylvania’s first Latino DEP secretary. Negrin is a former Philadelphia deputy mayor. The administration touted his management track record as a positive for the agency.

DEP, with roughly 2,400 employees, regulates air and water pollution, mining, oil and gas, and is mainly responsible for the state’s climate change policies.

Negrin told senators at his nomination hearing that the administration is committed to an “all of the above” energy strategy, and that he is open to carbon capture and hydrogen projects if they can benefit Pennsylvania and the environment.

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Just two weeks ago, Negrin said he was happy with President Biden’s announcement in mid-October that Pennsylvania would get parts of two federally-funded hydrogen hubs.

“I’m not kidding,” Negrin said. “I don’t want to put too fine a point on it. I think it’s the dawn of a clean energy economy that we’ve been talking about for years.”

At his nomination hearing, he said he wanted to improve DEP’s permitting process. The agency has faced criticism from all sides–from environmentalists for not doing enough to stop pollution, and from industry backers who say the agency can’t move fast enough to accommodate business.

At the hearing, he was asked about a 2020 grand jury report – released by then-Attorney General Shapiro – that found DEP failed to protect public health during the fracking boom and recommended new safety standards for drillers.

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, challenged Negrin on whether he intended to ban natural gas drilling.

Negrin said he doesn’t have a position on the grand jury’s recommendations, and said a team was reviewing the report and the science around fracking and health effects.

“It is my obligation, I think, as Secretary of DEP to be an honest broker around impacts on the environment when I get pulled in as a stakeholder,” Negrin said.

In February, while he was acting secretary before his confirmation, DEP was among the responders to the East Palestine train derailment, and conducted water and soil sampling. In July, he toured areas of Berks County that were hit with severe flooding, and offered DEP’s help.

“We can make sure that they have the expertise they need,” he told the Reading Eagle. “And we can reach out to our local and federal partners that we work with all the time to talk about these possible solutions.”

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.