No-show: A public hearing on DEP missed hearing from DEP

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The search for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale has divided Pennsylvanians like few other issues. This week brought evidence of that on two fronts.

Allegheny County Council voted Tuesday to approve drilling at Pittsburgh International Airport, a move (supported by this newspaper) that backers say will reap hundreds of millions of dollars. But four council members opposed the move and some residents expressed their displeasure by wearing masks.

For a sense of why some people are so agitated, consider the public hearing Tuesday in Washington, Pa. Witnesses criticized the state Department of Environmental Protection for failing to enforce drilling regulations. Some residents in drilling areas brought what they consider as evidence -- jugs of orange-brown tap water.

Anger and frustration were the prevailing sentiments, and no wonder. While those telling about their experience were heard by state lawmakers, they were all Democrats, members of the House Democratic Policy Committee, who were convened at the request of Rep. Jesse White of Cecil.

But Mr. White and his colleagues, members of the minority party in the House and Senate, can't do much about the complaints. Those who can were the subject of the meeting -- the secretary and the staff of DEP. But the agency, although invited to send a representative, refused to do so.

Instead, it sent a snotty note, which said the DEP is focused on "our core mission of protecting the environment, not wasting time on political theater." The agency said it was willing to attend legislative hearings and other meetings "that are productive and professional, and are arranged to further the discussion on critical issues." So there.

Reminder to DEP: Defending the environment is not an abstract goal, but something undertaken on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, some of whom were anxious to share their troubles. So what if the meeting had a political cast? If DEP is doing its job, it has nothing to be afraid of by listening and stating its case.

By refusing to attend, DEP merely confirms its own arrogance in the minds of some, divides Pennsylvanians further and encourages the suspicion that the agency may be not only a poor enforcer of regulations but also too cowardly to face its critics. And if a supporter of Marcellus Shale drilling like the Post-Gazette can reach this conclusion, the agency's insulting public relations was an object lesson in making things worse.

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