2017-08-12 / Viewpoints

State sells out to polluters

BY MAYA K. VAN ROSSUM

(Maya K. van Rossum of Bristol is the head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.)

Gov. Tom Wolf has joined forces with the Republicancontrolled state legislature to hand over Pennsylvania’s environment to the state’s biggest industries including oil, gas and coal.

No longer will the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) be able to thoughtfully review drilling and mining permits, toxic site development projects, or proposed new shale gas hydrofracturing 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 gas drillers, developers, or other industry players choose a consultant to do their review, DEP will have to pay out to cover the services, using permit fees that otherwise would support state DEP work.

The terms of the deal that Wolf has cut with Republicans 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.

While the proposed 2017-18 budget bills obligate DEP to give away its independence and authority on permit decision-making, the new set of sellouts also ensures that if a gas driller seeking a permit does not receive an answer in the 24 to 60 days the law provides (depending on the permit), it would get automatic approval.

And even more unbelievable, if 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 must give back the application fee.

The money-back promise kicks in despite the fact 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, 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.

And there’s more.

Wolf 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, 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 Gov. Wolf’s most recent unenvironmental gift package to industrial operators and polluters in Pennsylvania.

With this most recent set of acts, Wolf is once again betraying his constitutional obligations, and our constitutional rights to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment.

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