I recently introduced a two-bill package in the state Legislature that would change the head of the Department of Environmental Protection from an appointed secretary to an independently elected commissioner.
The bills—HB 2606 and 2607—would change the Pennsylvania Constitution to give the DEP commissioner true independence to do his or her job, much like we did in 1981 by moving the office of Attorney General from an appointed to elected position.
What’s the benefit?
First and foremost, any time the people have a direct say in choosing their leaders, it’s a good thing. Voters would be able to examine candidates based upon their qualifications and knowledge of the issues to help decide, which is much better than the current system of the inside political game of simply being approved by the state Senate.
Some critics may say making the DEP commissioner an elected position would actually be worse because of the influence of money in elections, which is a fair point.
But voters aren’t stupid. I’ll take open, documented campaign contributions over backroom deals any day. For example, it’s hard to defend the integrity of the appointment process when DEP Secretary Michael Krancer’s father donated $25,000 to the state Republican party the day before his son was confirmed by a Republican-controlled Senate.
I am not suggesting anything inappropriate took place, but the timing of the donation would cause anyone to raise their eyebrows and wonder.
With the emergence of the energy industry in Pennsylvania, the head of the Department of Environmental Protection has a critical role in charting our future. The very name of the post suggests that environmental protection should be at the top of his or her concerns, serving as an independent watchdog to ensure compliance with state law.
The DEP should not go out of its way to stop or impede responsible, lawful development of our energy industry, but it cannot look the other way from anything the governor who appointed them may not like.
At this point, I simply do not trust the DEP to do its job, and neither should anyone else in Pennsylvania. By allowing a blatant political agenda to overshadow basic scientific principles and independent, objective analysis, and an appointed secretary who will never have to face the voters, the DEP is using its name and implied credibility to do much more harm than good.
My personal experience comes from the , and then DEP spokespeople lied about it to the public through the media. The DEP hid behind a loophole in the Open Records Law and still refuses to release the data, which is mind-boggling.
After months of examining the evidence available, I am left with only one possible conclusion: DEP either intentionally ignored or knowingly concealed evidence of the effects of active Marcellus Shale drilling activity in the immediate vicinity of Cornerstone Care.
I cannot say with certainty that drilling activity was a factor, but based upon what we have seen, there is no way DEP could say it wasn’t a factor. What little evidence we were given by the DEP of specific compounds in the air indicates that drilling cannot be ruled out as a possible source, but the DEP continually refused to acknowledge that drilling could have been in any way involved.
When you add in the vocal and public defense of the DEP by Range Resources, the company drilling near Cornerstone, it becomes even clearer that something was up.
Range, through its spokesman Matt Pitzarella, went out of its way to go to the media and deny involvement even though no one was accusing the company of anything at the time.
Range seemed satisfied with DEP’s work, so long as DEP wasn’t being forced to show any actual data to anyone. But if Range knew its drilling activities had nothing to do with Cornerstone’s problems, and it was satisfied with DEP’s work (even though in theory it couldn’t have seen it), wouldn’t Range be the first one pushing DEP to release the testing data to prove that drilling had nothing to do with Cornerstone’s issues?
And what possible reason would the DEP have to seal the data from the public, especially with such a politically volatile issue? If everything really is on the level, none of it makes any sense. The political motivation to conceal any information that would negatively impact the drilling industry—which has donated ridiculous amounts of money to the governor who appointed the DEP secretary—is obvious, but is really secondary to the common sense questions raised by anyone who looks at the situation objectively.
Personally, I think the DEP either found something very bad that could be traced to a potential problem at the nearby drilling sites (which would be supported by the limited testing data we do have), or knew what they might find, and ‘conducted’ its tests with a predetermined, politically motivated result in mind.
Since the DEP is dogged in their opinion that both the federal government (evidenced by strong statements against EPA) and local governments (evidenced by the overwhelming support of Act 13, which strips local control over drilling operations) should get out of DEP’s way when it comes to Marcellus Shale, the DEP has positioned itself as the only game in town, without any real accountability or checks and balances.
Truly objective science is inclusive and collaborative, not done behind closed doors and shuttered windows.
Industry loyalists and DEP apologists have and will continue attacking me and my statements about this issue, but remember that the only way to prove me wrong is for DEP to release the 400 pages of raw testing data from Cornerstone Care. Everything else is just spin and propaganda from people who don’t want you to know the truth.
I hope DEP finally does release the data, and I hope it proves me wrong, for the sake of the health of my constituents. If something is going on, the people deserve to know the truth, because it’s their health, safety and welfare at stake.
I hope I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’m right. I think DEP is hiding potentially harmful information about the impact of drilling near Cornerstone Care.
Although it remains to be seen if the drillers were part of a plan to conceal the truth, they certainly stood to benefit by it, and therefore should join me in demanding DEP release the data so we can finally know the truth.
What happened at Cornerstone Care could happen in any town in Pennsylvania, which is why we need to make the head of DEP an elected position rather than an appointed one. The cost of failing to act to make the DEP accountable to the people could be much higher than any of us are willing to pay.