Former NC commerce, environmental secretary John Skvarla dies

Skvarla led North Carolina's Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Commerce during former Gov. Pat McCrory's tenure.

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John Skvarla takes over at Commerce
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — John Skvarla, a former leader of two North Carolina agencies, died on Tuesday, according to a law firm he was a member of and the former governor he served under.

Skvarla was chief executive of environmental restoration and mitigation company Restoration Systems before serving as former Gov. Pat McCrory’s secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from 2013 to 2015.

McCrory, who confirmed his former cabinet secretary’s passing, said he spoke over the phone with Skvarla two weeks ago and spoke with Skvarla’s wife on Tuesday. Skvarla was put in hospice on Monday and died of cancer, McCrory said.

As the state’s top environmental regulator, Skvarla oversaw the state’s response to a 2014 coal ash spill along the Dan River near Greensboro. The burst containment pond owned by Duke Energy sent 39,000 tons of coal ash into the river in Eden and resulted in a $6.6 million fine two years later.

“He walked right into a crisis and dealt with a tremendous amount of urgency and leadership,” McCrory said in an interview.

Skvarla then became McCrory’s commerce secretary in 2015, presiding at a time when the state saw economic fallout from the passage of House Bill 2.

The 2016 measure that was signed by McCrory required people to use the restroom of the gender assigned at their birth at public schools and government buildings. It prompted several organizations to cancel big events or major expansions in the state.

McCrory said Skvarla helped set North Carolina on a pathway to becoming what CNBC recently ranked as the best state in the country for companies to do business.

“He was always professional,” McCrory said. “He never got into name-calling. He was extremely nonpolitical in his job. There was no better salesman in the state.”

After his time in state government, Skvarla joined the Nexsen Pruet law firm, where he focused in part on corporate law and helped with economic development deals.

McCrory said he’ll remember how, early into his administration, Skvarla suggested that some divisions in his department would be better suited under the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. He also shared how the former secretary gave up office space and was selfless in his dealings with others, remembering him as someone who would easily “give up power for what’s the right thing to do.”

McCrory also said he’ll remember Skvarla’s skills on the golf course and a conversation the two recently had.

“I was fortunate to get to talk to him two weeks ago,” McCrory said. “I just told him I love him and he made a difference for our state, a very positive difference for our state. He was just a damn good role model for everybody.”


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