More terrible news out of PA: Marcellus regulators being hog-tied by administration

ProPublica has broken yet more shockingly bad news out of Marcellus-crazy Pennsylvania. The investigative journalism site reported yesterday that inspectors at the Department of Environmental Protection have been ordered not to issue any violations to Marcellus Shale gas drillers unless they have been approved at the very highest levels of the agency. This startling and unprecedented move effectively removes routine enforcement authority from specialized agency inspectors and vests it in political appointees.

Even former DEP Secretary John Hangar was stunned, telling Pro Publica: “It’s an extraordinary directive. It represents a break from how business has been done in the department within the Marcellus Shale and within the oil and gas program for probably 20 years.  It’s on its face really breathtaking and it is profoundly unwise.”

It is hard to imagine a more blatant symbol of the cozy relationship between industry and the Corbett Administration, or of the wholly unacceptable industry capture of regulatory decision making. This is, of course, precisely the sort of unethical relationship exposed at the federal Minerals Management Service in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that resulted in the dismantling of that agency. Pennsylvania seems not to have gotten the message.

In a state that is already besieged by every imaginable variety of gas development-related misfortune – from contamination of private water wells and the state’s major rivers, to gas well explosions, to quarantined livestock, and more – this is the last thing its residents need. Hopes that the state might learn from these disasters and belatedly strengthen its regulations to protect its citizens’ health and natural resources appear to have been sorely misplaced.

Meanwhile, this latest development serves as yet another cautionary tale for neighboring New York State about the industry pressures to fight, weaken or thwart regulation at every possible turn. Governor Cuomo can reassure New Yorkers that his administration is standing up to industry by strongly and clearly affirming that the Department of Environmental Conservation will not be rushed to finish what has to date been a deeply flawed environmental review process.  Ask him to declare that DEC will have as much time and as many resources as it needs to do the job right.

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