If there’s one overriding trait to be attributed to Pennsylvania’s governor, it is consistency – especially in maintaining his promise not to impede Marcellus shale developers.
In his new budget proposal, Gov. Tom Corbett has cut the allocation for the Department of Environmental Protection, which normally is charged with reviewing and granting permits that should, properly done, ensure the safety of the environment and the commonwealth’s citizens.
And, hewing to the battle cry of “more jobs,” he has included a provision that could effectively shift environmental permitting authority from DEP to the Department of Community and Economic Development. The governor has been quoted saying the proposal only gives “permission” for DCED Secretary C. Alan Walker to help companies cut through bureaucratic red tape.
Walker, who reportedly has contributed $184,000 to Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004, is CEO and owner of Bradford Energy Company and Bradford Coal – once one of the state’s largest coal mining companies. Bradford also is reportedly among the companies leasing property for Marcellus shale gas exploration and development.
Placing a coal baron in charge of environmental enforcement smacks of placing the fox in charge of the hen house. In 1980, Walker declared state regulators the “natural adversary” of the coal industry. More recently, his company threatened to stop treating Susquehanna River water being polluted by water flowing from 15 inactive Bradford company mines. (The company never made good on the threat, in part because DEP won a court decision ensuring treatment would continue.)
Since being placed in charge of DCED, Walker has advocated leasing more state-owned forest land – in addition to the 700,000 acres already leased – to Marcellus shale drillers, claiming the money would solve “just about every economic problem” facing the state. But most of the long-term jobs and profits go to out-of-state companies.
In what we are regularly reminded are “these tough economic times,” it is tempting to look only at the job-creating potential of fossil fuel production. But when all the leases have been researched and signed, the forests sliced and diced, the pipelines laid and the gas made to flow, most of the jobs will disappear. Counties whose vision is now glittered by dollar signs will be begging for state financial assistance.
- The owner of a wastewater injection well in Bell Township, Clearfield County, continued to use the well four months after he realized it was leaking into area ground water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last week fined Exco Resources $159,624 for the failure. The federal agency says other wells have had similar problems; the Bell Township well is the only one, so far, known to have continued operation after the problem was detected, without reporting the leakage.
- A wastewater injection well near Youngstown, Ohio, near the western Pennsylvania border, was blamed this month for earthquakes in that area. Although the quakes have not yet caused serious damage, who will pay the bill when they do?
- The EPA said it may begin testing Dimock Township water, in northeastern Pa., and may begin contracting to have water delivered to township residents. DEP blamed Houston, Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. for drilling faulty wells, and since April 2010 has banned the company from drilling in the Dimock area. Cabot says it has resolved the water problems, and won a decision from state regulators in November saying the company no longer was required to supply water to township residents.
Perhaps as important as the accidents is legislators’ being remiss in providing for company-funded remediation of company-caused environmental problems, some of which will have long-term ramifications. Mile and-a-half-deep wells are not like living room lights; when there’s a problem, you don’t just turn the wells off and the problem disappears.
There is a reason environmental protection and economic development are responsibilities of separate departments. Giving one the functions of the other is a move that will reach out and bite us, and by then the developers will have taken their profits and moved on, leaving Pa. taxpayers to foot the bill for damages.
Photo by Tom Owad
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