State Rep. Jesse White introduced legislation this week that would require the state Department of Environmental Protection to disclose the full and complete testing results—including raw data and documentation—of any environmental tests conducted by the department on a landowner’s or leaseholder’s property in Pennsylvania.
According to H.B. 268, DEP would have to make the information available at no cost and within five business days of receiving a written request from the landowner or leaseholder, or face civil penalties of up to $1,500 if the department fails to make the information available.
White, D-Cecil, who previously called on DEP to make public the full testing data and other details related to air and water quality tests amid concerns of nearby Marcellus Shale drilling operations, said his legislation would ensure that Pennsylvania residents can access their complete test results, and prevent that information from being withheld through bureaucratic maneuvering.
“Pennsylvanians have a right to know the entire truth about what DEP discovers from testing on their property; nothing more, nothing less,” said White. “DEP has used exemptions in the Open Records Law to deny requests for testing data and has even claimed there was a greater interest in withholding data than in releasing it to the public, which is fundamentally wrong. There is no justification whatsoever for disclosing anything less than 100 percent of the information about the substances in the air and water of Pennsylvania residents.”
In June, DEP denied White the complete details of air quality test results taken at Cornerstone Care, a Burgettstown-area health clinic that was forced to close on multiple occasions due to a mysterious odor that sickened employees. After given a series of partial and inconsistent test results, White said the raw data could have helped identify the cause of the odors at the clinic, which was located next to a Marcellus Shale drilling site.
In November, White criticized DEP’s usage of its “suite code” computer-code system after a DEP scientist testified in an unrelated case that her laboratory tested for a range of hazardous materials while analyzing the water-quality impact from a nearby natural gas drilling site, but reported results for only some of them.
White said of further concern to him was the recent discovery that DEP developed, but never used, a computer-code called “Suite Code 944” or “Marcellus Inorganic Survey” that would test for 45 contaminants in its water analyses, instead opting to use other suite codes that test for fewer than half the number of potentially hazardous materials.
“DEP developed a suite code to fully analyze for impacts of Marcellus Shale, and not only did they never use it, they never told anybody that it even existed,” White said. “Pennsylvania residents deserve to know exactly what’s in their air and water when DEP performs tests on their properties. If DEP is unwilling to provide the full truth, the legislature should reaffirm our commitment to openness and transparency by ensuring DEP does the right thing by law.”
House Bill 268 is awaiting consideration in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.