Silence is Golden When You Can’t Think of a Good Answer
'Just because Krancer and Gov. Tom Corbett don’t like the questions I’m asking on behalf of my constituents, is it justification to ignore an elected representative and more importantly, the people whose lives are being impacted?'
This week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Democratic Policy Committee hosted a hearing in Washington County to examine the Department of Environmental Protection’s accountability standards regarding environmental testing following natural gas drilling.
Noticeably absent from the hearing was anyone from the DEP itself, which is unfortunate on multiple levels.
I sent a letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer asking for someone from his agency to come and testify to help the public better understand how DEP conducts air and water testing near drilling areas. A DEP spokeswoman issued a statement saying the agency would not engage in ‘political theater,’ even though Krancer had testified before the same committee multiple times in the past on DEP’s approach to Marcellus Shale issues.
The response was unusual and more than a little insulting. The Policy Committee is made up of about 90 state legislators from every corner of Pennsylvania—the committee conducts informational hearings on issues in different parts of the state on a regular basis. I have hosted policy hearings in the past on issues such as access to rural health care and property tax reassessment reform, and there have never been any problems.
So what was the DEP’s refusal to show up really all about?
I have been trying to get very specific answers from DEP for months now with no success. When it broke in the national media that DEP was withholding certain information from water tests near drilling sites using a system of computer codes, I asked the DEP for an explanation. Krancer responded by leveling attacks in the media, but failed to answer the questions. I tried again by sending him another letter on Dec. 5 asking 10 very specific questions about DEP’s approach in order to keep the focus on the issues instead of personal attacks. To date, I have not received any sort of answer to that letter.
To make matters worse, we recently learned DEP had developed a specific test for water quality testing near Marcellus Shale drilling sites, and not only had they never once used it, but they never even told anyone about it. How the DEP can say they answered my concerns while leaving out that information is ridiculous and insulting to anyone paying attention.
So now the DEP is trying to portray my efforts to get some answers as "political theater" in a clear attempt to minimize the entire issue, but that’s a cheap smokescreen. If Krancer could really answer my simple questions and wanted to shut me up, why not just show up and put me in my place by answering our questions? (Remember, this is the guy who went to extraordinary lengths to refuse releasing the air testing data from Cornerstone Care because the DEP claimed it would be better for the public not to know what they found).
Let me put it another way: Would it be acceptable if there were a potentially dangerous condition on a state roadway and representatives from PennDOT refused to show up and even discuss it? The public would be outraged, and with good reason, so why is this any different?
This is what we do as legislators; when we hear from our constituents that the bureaucracy of state government isn’t doing its job, we step in and try to untangle the red tape. We do it every day with departmentssuch as Labor and Industry, PENNDOT and the Department of Public Welfare. By comparison, we haven’t been able to get anyone from DEP to return a single constituent call in months now, which is just inexcusable.
Just because Krancer and Gov. Tom Corbett don’t like the questions I’m asking on behalf of my constituents, is it justification to ignore an elected representative and more importantly, the people whose lives are being impacted?
In the grown-up world, we have to work with people we may not necessarily like; in government, you quickly learn to respect the office even if you may not care for the person occupying it at the moment.
I have done everything I could think of to work with the DEP in a rational manner, but they have made it very clear they have no interest in responding in any way whatsoever. I have and will continue to look for ways to work with the DEP in a rational and professional manner, but the ball is in their court to be open about their policies and procedures. In the meantime, I have constituents coming to me every day with very legitimate questions based on very real and very disturbing experiences they’ve had with the DEP. So I’m going to keep fighting for the answers we all deserve; I was elected to represent my constituents and I intend to continue doing so.
This isn’t about me; it’s about the taxpayers who pay the salaries of Governor Corbett, Secretary Krancer and every staffer at the DEP. It’s about basic honesty and accountability on an issue impacting more Pennsylvanians every day. And for those who think this is some anti-drilling issue, think again. Most of the people who approach me are leaseholders who are very pro-drilling, but they want to know the DEP is making sure it’s being done ‘the right way’.
So if DEP is doing their job, it’s time they prove it. And the single best way to do that is to give the people the real answers they deserve. When I think about the DEP’s refusal to answer some very straightforward questions about whether or not they’re doing their job by protecting us, I am reminded of a quote from Muhammad Ali: “Silence is golden when you can’t think of a good answer.”If so, DEP Secretary Krancer should be locked up in Fort Knox.