Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that North Carolina DENR Secretary John Skvarla “bristled” yesterday at questions about his agency’s relationship with Duke Energy and the non-clean-up of coal ash ponds and dumps that the two parties have overseen. This seems like an accurate description — Skvarla seemed visibly agitated in his testimony before the Environmental Review Commission — and not terribly surprising for a man whose agency was served with subpoenas in federal criminal investigation.
While perhaps understandable for a man in Skvarla’s predicament, it’s difficult to see, however, just how lashing out at critics is going to change things for him anytime soon. When you’ve premised 13 months of leadership of a critically important public agency on weakening and watering down its mission, kowtowing to powerful ideological and business interests and issuing downright inane directives to the fast-shrinking and increasingly dispirited staff of employees you oversee, this is what happens when the coal sludge hits the fan: you get criticized.
Put simply, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t spend months and months trying to convince an agency of environmental protection professionals that their next pay raises will be predicated on increased economic activity in the state resulting from unleashed (i.e. deregulated) businesses and then turn around and whine about tough media questions or the fact that certain groups of environmental advocates didn’t file the exact same lawsuits against your predecessor.
For now, however, barring some genuine reversal of course when it comes to policy, such a two-faced P.R. campaign appears to be the only potentially effective weapon that Skvarla and his boss, Gov. McCrory have at their disposal. In other words, get ready for a campaign that would make Frank Underwood smile.