HARRISBURG (AP) - Gov. Tom Corbett's often-combative environmental protection secretary will leave the post next month after two years of guiding the agency that regulated Pennsylvania's natural gas boom amid clashes with environmental advocates, federal regulators and Democratic lawmakers.
Michael Krancer, who was a state environmental law judge and lawyer for energy giant Exelon Corp. before joining the Republican governor's administration, helped oversee Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission and handled emerging issues of river and air pollution as Pennsylvania worked to modernize its laws to address new drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques.
The agency was in "good hands" under his leadership, Corbett said in a statement, and cited Krancer's work to improve the way the Department of Environmental Protection operates. Krancer called working for Corbett and the department "the greatest honor of my career."
Corbett said Krancer, 55, of Bryn Mawr, will return to private law practice after April 15 with the Philadelphia-based firm Blank Rome, where he will serve as chairman of the firm's energy, petrochemical and natural resources practice. Krancer may yet seek public office again: He ran unsuccessfully for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007 and his father was a generous donor to Corbett in the 2010 campaign.
Christopher Abruzzo, one of Corbett's deputy chiefs of staff, will serve as acting secretary until a successor is named, Corbett said. Corbett, who is viewed as a close ally of the natural gas industry, was urged by Myron Arnowitt, of the environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action, to find a replacement who "knows their job is to protect our air and water, not to protect the gas industry."
For Krancer, dust-ups were not unusual in the high-profile task of managing the rapidly expanding drilling and gas production that made the Marcellus Shale the nation's most productive natural gas reservoir.
He frequently accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of overstepping its boundaries when it came to regulating the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, and his exchanges with Democratic lawmakers during legislative hearings were sometimes hostile, once even prompting the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee to stop the hearing to scold him.
Environmental groups regularly accused him of siding with the natural gas industry, such as the way his agency decided to regulate air pollution from drilling sites and compressor stations. Meanwhile, the head of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has complained that Krancer's agency was more concerned with politics than dealing with a decline in fish populations in the Susquehanna River.
Some property owners in the state's expanding gas drilling fields had contended that Krancer's agency was not responsive to their complaints about pollution. Krancer, in turn, routinely dismissed criticism as being without the "facts" and boosted the natural gas industry he regulated as providing cheap energy and plentiful jobs.
Krancer, like Corbett, was popular with the natural gas industry. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a 4-year-old advocacy group that has grown in size and strength with the flow of gas from the Marcellus Shale, praised Krancer's stewardship.
"Secretary Krancer's constructiveness and pragmatism have served our commonwealth well," the organization said in a statement. "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."
Three months after he took over the job, Krancer won voluntary commitments from many industry members to stop disposing of millions of gallons of contaminated drilling wastewater through ill-equipped treatment plants that discharge into rivers and streams. The industry had fought such a requirement under Corbett's Democratic predecessor, Gov. Ed Rendell, even amid growing concern from scientists about the effect on the state's rivers.
George Jugovich, the president and CEO of the environmental group PennFuture, praised Krancer's dedication and willingness to listen to opinions. But he also said Krancer had made two crucial missteps: politicizing routine enforcement actions against the drilling industry by requiring a top-level approval of them and striking handshake agreements with companies to clean up pollution in ways that left the public in the dark.
"The agency needs to act in a very transparent way, particularly with compliance issues and enforcement issues, and particularly with the gas industry coming into Pennsylvania ... and I thought that (those) were two major issues that harmed the agency's reputation," Jugovich said.
Krancer has defended his central oversight of gas industry enforcement as a way to improve its consistency across the state.