Gov Wolf’s Big Environment Give Away to Industry

Governor Wolf has joined forces with the Republican legislature to hand over Pennsylvania’s environment to the state’s biggest industries including oil, gas and coal. No longer will the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) be able to thoughtfully review drilling and mining permits, toxic site development projects, or proposed new fracking operations. In less than two years, the industry will be able to choose who will review and approve their permit applications. A cabal of private consultants will be available for industry to choose from. Consultants on the list will be the same consultants working for the very same industries. When frackers, developers, or other industry players choose a consultant to do their review, the state Department of Environmental Protection will have to pay out to cover the services, using permit fees that otherwise would support state DEP work. The terms of the deal the Governor has cut with his Republican cronies does not prevent conflicts of interest, fails to discuss public disclosure of documents or access to the review process, and fails to ensure that the people’s constitutional rights to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment are protected.

Botched pipeline stream crossing

While the proposed 2017–2018 budget bills obligate DEP to give away its independence and authority on permit decisionmaking, the new set of sellouts also ensures that if a fracked gas driller seeking a permit does not receive an answer in the 24 to 60 days the law provides (depending on the permit), they would get an automatic approval. And even more unbelievable, if the DEP informs the driller that there needs to be an extension of the permit review period because the driller’s application materials are deficient, DEP has to give them back their application fee. The money back promise kicks in despite that DEP is putting in the time and incurring the expense to review the driller’s proposal. Further still, even if the application remains deficient after two tries from the applicant, DEP is forced to make a decision without complete information. As a result the drillers have every incentive not to give all the facts, figures and science needed for an informed DEP decision — because we all know that if accurate facts are given, fracking is an obviously bad idea.

Is there more? Yes there is. The Governor and legislators are expanding the list of pollutants that can contaminate a stream, only requiring compliance with the water quality requirements at the point a stream is withdrawn for a public water supply use. If there is no public water supply withdrawal point for, say, a 100 miles, that means the whole 100 miles can be the dumping ground for a company, without concern about drinking water protections and environmental justice implications. But what about the kids swimming, the anglers fishing, or the families wading in the water? By virtue of this deal, manganese joins nitrite-nitrate nitrogen, phenolics, chloride, sulfate, fluoride and total dissolved solids on the list of pollutants allowed to more easily contaminate and degrade our streams, and in turn, our health.

These are just a few of the degrading highlights of the Governor’s most recent un-environmental gift package to industrial operators and polluters in Pennsylvania. With this most recent set of acts, Governor Wolf is once again betraying his constitutional obligations, and our constitutional rights to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment. And in exchange for what? The severance tax on shale gas that he has been so coveted but heretofore been denied, now apparently worth giving away the health of the Commonwealth’s environment and communities. The Delaware Riverkeeper Network was the only environmental plaintiff leading the constitutional rights claims in the now famous Robinson Twp, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, et. al. v Commonwealth case that brought our environmental rights provision back to life. Rest assured, Pennsylvania, we will not be sitting idly by and let this happen.

(originally published 8/4/17 in PAPennLive http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2017/08/whats_behind_gov_wolfs_environ.html )