42 groups demand DEP change policy on enforcing rules for shale drilling

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Forty-two environmental, conservation and faith-based organizations and businesses have asked Gov. Tom Corbett to end the state Department of Environmental Protection's new procedure requiring political appointees to review and approve of all enforcement actions involving Marcellus Shale gas well operations.

The 42 groups, including seven businesses and two church groups, say in the letter that the new DEP procedure policy that requires even notices of violation normally issued by field inspectors to be pre-approved by DEP Secretary Michael Krancer or other department administrators will create "unacceptable delays" that could endanger public health and safety.

The request to end the procedure was made in a letter hand-delivered to the governor's office Thursday.

"Preventing DEP inspectors from issuing notices of violations of environmental laws unnecessarily delays resolution of problems and conditions that pose threats to natural resources, worker safety and public health," said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a statewide environmental advocacy organization active on Marcellus Shale drilling issues. "We need the DEP to let on-the-ground inspectors do their jobs."

Jeff Schmidt, director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, called on the governor to cancel the policy immediately and "take the handcuffs off our environmental cops."

A phone call seeking comment from the governor's office was not returned.

The major DEP policy change, which the governor's office has said was not ordered by Mr. Corbett, was detailed in internal DEP emails sent March 23 by a department administrator to regional directors and the department's Oil and Gas Bureau. The policy change was never publicly announced by the department, but it came to light a week later when copies of the emails were obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other media outlets.

The next day the DEP announced that the procedural change would be employed only for 90 days as part of a "pilot program."

The letter notes the fast growth of Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations in the state and the 1,227 violations of environmental laws that inspectors found in 2010. Sixty-eight more violations were found by inspectors in January of this year, the last month for which the state's inspection and violation reports are available.

"DEP must give inspectors the clear authority to take action to immediately identify problems and require drillers to correct problems as quickly as possible," the letter states. "Unfortunately, the new DEP review and clearance policy undercuts inspectors' ability to do their jobs."

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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