Pennsylvania

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Mike Krancer And The EPA: It’s Complicated

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

DEP Secretary Michael Krancer.

Over the last few years, the Environmental Protection Agency has taken an increased interest in regulating and monitoring hydraulic fracturing. And when the EPA steps into an area that Pennsylvania’s state agency is already overseeing, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer appears to take it personally. That personal reaction often comes in the form of a blistering letter written to the EPA.

When the EPA began an investigation of whether or not the water in Dimock, Susquehanna County was safe to drink, Krancer essentially told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson she didn’t know what she was talking about.

“We realize and recognize that EPA is very new to all of this and the EPA’s understanding of the facts and science behind this activity is rudimentary,” he wrote. “Fortunately, Pennsylvania is not new to all of this and we have a long history of experience at overseeing and regulating oil and natural gas extraction activities in our state, including hydraulic fracturing.”

The letter questioned the EPA’s motives, calling the agency’s investigation of possible fracking-related pollution in Pavillion, Wyoming a “rush to conclusions.”

The tension goes beyond natural gas drilling. In 2010, EPA began reviewing the permits the state issues for water-related coal mining operations. The federal agency was essentially looking over Pennsylvania’s shoulder as it set coal extraction guidelines. In a letter to regional EPA Administrator Shawn Garvin, Krancer expressed his “dismay,” called the new practice “disconcerting,” “unnecessary” and “overreaching,” writing, “this elevated scrutiny by EPA has little or no environmental or scientific basis and is contrary to almost three decades of past relationship between EPA and DEP.

Krancer also criticized EPA regulations aimed at improving Chesapeake Bay water quality, warning the new standards would cost Pennsylvania municipalities $5.3 billion. “This extraordinary cost is simply not reasonable, not cost effective and not likely to result in significant needed environmental gains,” he wrote.

Krancer has penned 12 formal letters to the EPA since he took charge of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection in January 2011. StateImpact Pennsylvania obtained the documents through a Right-To-Know request. And while not all of the missives are inflammatory – Krancer is quick to point out that state and federal environmental regulators work closely with each other on a range of issues – the letters demonstrate how Krancer often views the EPA with suspicion.

Update: Read excerpts from the letters here.

A “Parent-Child Relationship”

Sitting in his Harrisburg office, Krancer said the EPA doesn’t always trust the state’s judgment.  “It’s amazing to me sometimes how stupid the EPA has discovered we became as of January 19, 2011,” he said, pointing to the date the Republican Corbett Administration took control. “And I continue to say that. It is somewhat frustrating because I do have 2,600 of the best experts on the planet…and I think sometimes my federal partners don’t recognize that.”

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

DEP Secretary Mike Krancer and Energy Executive Patrick Henderson at a 2011 Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission meeting

Tension between the EPA and a state isn’t exactly new. During an interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania, Krancer made that point by reading from a 1997 speech given by then-Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission Chair Barry McBee. “We feel like we’re being treated like children,” Krancer said, quoting the speech, “and I believe the EPA sees us in light of paternalistic parent-child relationship.”

Administrator Lisa Jackson even tussled with the agency when she ran New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection. She once called it the “Emissions Permissions Agency,” when she was frustrated the Bush Administration wasn’t doing more to crack down on air pollution.

After Krancer sent his blistering Dimock letter, Jackson was quick to point out the EPA views Pennsylvania as a partner, not a subsidiary. “I used to run a state organization and frankly would prefer not to have the federal government looking into situations,” she said. “We know we don’t know everything. We’re calling on them to help us understand it and work to collaborate. …We certainly see them as a partner.”

Krancer’s argument against more federal involvement is two-fold: he says Pennsylvania is doing a good job on its own, thank you very much; and that states have long been designated the lead regulator, when it comes to drilling permitting. Krancer points out Pennsylvania has strengthened its well-casing standards and limited the amount of drilling fluid returning to rivers and streams. Critics argue these new regulations were implemented after drilling ramped up, and worry the DEP is too reactive in drafting and enforcing new requirements.

Krancer – a Civil War reenactor who sprinkles his arguments with historical references – says he doesn’t want the federal government to overstep its role. “It’s a complicated relationship,” he told StateImpact Pennsylvania. “And the relationship between the federal and state governments in the United States has been a complicated relationship ever since 1787, when the constitution was signed. Heck, one time we had a Civil War about the federal and state relationship.”

And while Krancer dresses as a Union soldier when he reenacts the Civil War, he’s a firm supporter of states’ rights. He ran for state Supreme Court in 2007 as a strict constructionist, telling voters that Antonin Scalia was his judicial role model.

That’s not to say he’s against all federal involvement in drilling regulation.

Last month, the EPA announced new regulations aimed at cutting back the amount of methane and pollutants drillers are emitting. The agency claims the requirements will cut methane emissions by 1.7 million tons a year, when the rules go into effect in 2015.

You’d think this new federal guideline would rankle Krancer, but you’d be wrong.  “Well actually, I think they can have a positive impact. I really do,” he said.

Krancer insisted he’s OK with the new regulations, because the EPA has always had the power to regulate air quality. That’s different than drilling permits, which have long been state-controlled.

And for a letter-of-the-law guy like Krancer, the distinction makes a difference. He generated headlines in November, when, during testimony in front of a Congressional hearing, he called the question of whether or not the federal government should set baseline requirements for hydraulic fracturing and drilling waste disposal “a red herring.”

“What’s wrong with a minimum national standard?” New York Democrat Timothy Bishop asked. “Because not every state [hosts wells],” Krancer replied. “Because not every state does it the same way, number two. Number three, has the same geography. …Shall I go on?”

“Hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated by the federal government,” he wrote in his prepared statement to the committee. “It has always been a matter of state regulation.”

“EPA Has A Much Deeper Bench”

Kathleen McGinty has been on both sides of the state-federal relationship. She ran the DEP for six years when Democrat Ed Rendell was governor, and headed the White House Office on Environmental Policy during the Clinton Administration. McGinty acknowledged dealing with some “creative tension” during her tenure in Harrisburg, but insists there’s room for both the state and federal government to regulate drilling and other environmental issues.

“EPA has a much deeper bench than any state does, in terms of human health and science,” she said. “And then what the states have is, one, a much better sense of how to put an implementation strategy together that makes sense in their backyard. And second, they’re close to the ground.”

Krancer does make a point to highlight productive areas of the DEP-EPA relationship. “We’re working together, by the way, with EPA on a number of very beneficial mining projects, which are treating a lot of acid mine drainage that hadn’t been treated before,” adding acid mine drainage is one of many “creative projects” the two organizations are working together on.

And while he blasted the EPA for conducting its own review of the mining permits Pennsylvania issues – this was the letter where Krancer called the agency’s action “disconcerting” and “overreaching” – Krancer sent the EPA a cordial follow-up letter after a meeting on the issue. “We look forward to continue working with you to issue permits that protect the health and welfare of our citizens and the environment,” he wrote in January 2012.

Comments

  • KeepTapWaterSafe

    There are many across the state who would like to see “The Secretary” arrested. He’s
    already been named in at least one lawsuit, and apparently there are more on the way. Personally, I just think he’s on the wrong side of the Marcellus issue. Many of the policies he’s enacting, along with DEP’s 2,600 completely overwhelmed experts and their inadequate level of enforcement, will result in irrevocably polluted watersheds. And frankly, I fault the Secretary because he’s an  appointed official, yet he ‘polemicizes’ the shale gas issue for all it’s worth. He continually states inaccurate gas propaganda as fact (such as the overblown, and subsequently lowered, estimates of Marcellus reserves) while simultaneously disregarding genuine science, like the Duke University methane study (which basically concluded that we need more data). He’s a vocal proponent who’s “bullish” on Corbett’s new budget though it cuts the very funding that would afford us more study! Why not require drillers pay for the science, then? This DEP is endangering us all. Future generations will have no one to blame but but us – but him.

    • Jobs4pa

      Bet you 20 bucks those watersheds and the rest of the environment is just dandy in 5, 10, 15, or 20 years.  

      Save the drama for while your protesting on the Capitol steps.

      • KeepTapWaterSafe

         you’re on! only let’s make it 70 or 100 years from now…

      • call me cal

        Bet you $20 bucks in 20 years because of fracking that we will not be drinking any untreated ground water around the beltway. By the way the susqahana aqua fur supplies Washington DC.

  • GilbertEngageAmerica

    This is of course is not just specific PA. EPA regulatory policy needs to take a step
    back and look at its impact on how it is affecting business practices. While it
    might have good intentions, regulations in the US are overbearing and moreover
    costly. Businesses suffer from an inability to be able to keep up
    with regulations that constantly change and are inconsistent with the economic
    ideology that the US says it wishes to embrace (http://bit.ly/zIfsUf). A lack of symbiosis on both fronts will be our down fall if not
    handled. 

  • Jslesing

    It’s not complicated. In fact it’s very simple. The DEP has not been effective in dealing with this industry. Either they are really inept or just out to collect a paycheck and no matter what they say corruption exists within the DEP. Krancer does not want the EPA involved because he is afraid of what they will find within his agency. The DEP people I have dealt with, from the field investigators up to the regional directors have a cocky “you can’t touch us” attitude along with the drillers. We need help!!!!  

  • John Moyer

    It’s pretty well known that the industry can get legal waivers around any regulation, and that was the way the oil & gas industry set it up from the getgo.  Folks, the oil & gas industry will not protect you.

    • Guest

      DEP = Dept. of Energy Protection or Don’t Expect Protection. I was thrilled to learn the EPA was investigating. Krancer is an industry shill!

  • Theatregrove

    It looks like someone is getting nervous that his secrets will be exposed.

  • Call me cal

    Cabot oil & gas or COG on the stock market has obviously too much money and too many lobbyist to continue the mucking of the truth about hydraulic fracking. Not until the levels of arsnic and other chemicals detected in the squahana aqua fur that supplies Washington DC. area are detected around the beltway, and the children of the EPA are effected will anything be done. By then it will be far to late and the water will only be good for a radiator!
    The government has given “COG” a permit to ruin your land! Boycott NYSE : symbol COG! if you own it sell it off we can close them down and bankrupt them. Then our government can take the permit fees and payoffs and clean it the hell up! Americas energy dependency at what cost.

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