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Harrisburg takes reins for Marcellus enforcement

April 1, 2011

What does $800,000 in generous campaign contributions buy these days?  Sizable donations like that can get industry an overturned moratorium on drilling in state forests, as well as a decision to not consider any extraction tax on drillers.  And now it also buys a non-publicized (but leaked to reporters) castration of the regulations seemingly putting political appointees in direct control of permit issuance and enforcement of violations.

“Field inspectors and regional directors for the state Department of Environmental Protection have been told they must obtain approval from DEP Secretary Michael Krancer before issuing permits or enforcing regulations pertaining to Marcellus Shale drilling.”

“The policy applies strictly to Marcellus Shale-related drilling activity, and not to any other activities that the agency also inspects across six regions, including mining, construction, water and sewer treatment, power generation and medical X-rays.”

John Hines, DEP executive deputy secretary and Dana Aunkst,  acting DEP deputy secretary for field operations (appointed in March 2011) must also pre-approve all permitting and violation enforcement.

Michael Krancer, an attorney, now DEP Commissioner appointed to his position by Governor Tom Corbett in in January 2011

“Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, a statewide environmental group active on Marcellus issues, said the new procedures ‘make a joke out of inspections.  When they see violations, they have a duty to write them up, but now they must first run them up the chain of command to get a political OK,’ she said. ‘It completely undercuts the independence and professionalism of the inspectors’.”

What DEP spokespeople say is not political but the result of needed uniformity and streamlining smacks of favoritism.  It’s of interest that the industry has said repeatedly that it’s preference is a state by state patchwork of rules instead of overall federal regulations.  Yet, here within one of those single states, industry is asking for a uniform handling of rules and regs from one end of Pennsylvania to the other.

The decision is drawing wide criticism both internally by staff at DEP and externally by citizens, environmental groups, and even former DEP secretary under Ed Rendell, John Hanger.  “This can do nothing but crater public confidence in inspections and oversight of the industry,” Mr. Hanger said. “It will not benefit the industry, which will be the biggest loser because it needs the authentic, independent and professional inspections and oversight to maintain confidence in the industry. This intrusion into longstanding professional practices by political appointees is the opposite of what should be happening.  The new policy tells the inspector that he’s going to be second-guessed from a distance by individuals not familiar with the site. It’s 180 degrees from where things ought to stand.”

To read more, please follow up with these article from around the state of Pennsylvania:

The outrageous news of this unprecedented policy shift follows hard on the heels of President Obama’s speech indicating his support for natural gas extraction, which means fracking with all its environmental destruction and harms to public health.  Natural gas stocks rose overnight.  Please read this cogent analysis of the President’s “non-plan”

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