DENR Sec. Skvarla on fracking, climate change and working with business

"I think climate change is a science and I think science is constantly in need of scrutiny," says the incoming DENR secretary.

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Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — John Skvarla is Gov. Pat McCrory's pick to head the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. 
Skvarla has been CEO of Restoration Systems since 2005. The company rebuilds wetlands and helps companies comply with federal laws that require they replace wetlands they disturb during construction. A biography on the company's website says:

In recent years he has served as Managing Director of an investment banking office in Raleigh, owner of a Sandhills golf course community, and turned around a waste products manufacturing company with primary offices in Los Angeles, New York, Miami and Chicago.

His professional career began with the practice of law in 1973, where he served as an associate, and subsequently partner, of a boutique business and tax firm. In 1978, Skvarla founded and served as Senior Partner to the Raleigh, NC-based law firm of Skvarla, Wyrick and Robbins, specializing in corporate and tax matters, as well as public and private capital formations. The organization currently operates as Wyrick, Robbins, Yates and Ponton with 75 attorneys and specializes in growth business law.

From 1984 through 1986, Skvarla held the position of Chief Operating Officer of The Aviation Group, Inc. During his tenure, the company emerged as the world’s largest all-cargo airline, providing start-up and flight operation services to UPS, Emery, Purlator Courier and Burlington Northern in the overnight package industry. His responsibilities with The Aviation Group encompassed management of all operations, including 1,200 employees and 400 unionized pilots, and direct involvement in all public and private financing negotiations.

"I have been dealing with DENR for almost 10 years because of Restoration Systems, so I certainly have some exposure to the agency," Skvarla said during a recent interview with WRAL-TV's Laura Leslie. Skvarla talked about a number of policy topics, including:

Fracking: Leslie asked how Skvarla would balance the state desire of a governor who wants to move North Carolina into the energy exploration business and his agency's mission to protect the environment. 

"Clearly the resources are going to be protected. We are not going to go backward in air and water quality protection," Skvarla said. His agency, he said, will work with the Mining and Energy Commission to develop the rules needed to ensure drilling can be done safely. 

"The good news is they are not re-inventing the wheel. This is something that has existed historically," Skvarla said. 

Rep. Mitch Gillespie: As a lawmaker, Gilespie was both an advocate for greater study of fracking and someone who plastered a target over his office window so that it circled the DENR building. How will Skvarla due with a man tapped to be his assistant secretary?

"I'm the Secretary. I'm the ultimate call, not an assistant secretary," Skvarla said. "I think there are regulations that could be considered over-regulation," he added, explaining some of the discomfort Republican lawmakers have had with DENR.

Renewable energy: North Carolina has a law that requires power companies to buy a certain portion of their power from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power. Some lawmakers have talked about rolling back that law. 

"Renewable energy, number one, is not cost effective right now. It requires subsidy," Skvarla said. "At some point in time the trade off has to be protection of the environment, and the ability to create jobs and to take care of the here and now. Do you invest $1 billion for something that's 20 years from now versus cleaning up dirty water right now that somebody's drinking."

Climate change: The changing climate has been a top of discussion at the the General Assembly. As DENR secretary, Skvarla can be expected to advise on any legislation aimed at sea level rise or other climate issues. Leslie asked for his thoughts on the topic. 

"I think climate change is a science and I think science is constantly in need of scrutiny," Skvarla said. He said there is still "a great divergence of opinion on the science of climate" and that more dialog is needed. 


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