Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Is the DEP too sneaky?

Proposed legislation would bar the agency from using video surveillance and from driving unmarked vehicles.

zigazou76 via Flickr

Proposed legislation would bar the agency from using video surveillance and from driving unmarked vehicles.

A pair of bills seeks to prohibit the state Department of Environmental Protection from using video surveillance to enforce environmental laws and from driving unmarked cars at oil and gas sites.

Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R- Butler) is the prime sponsor of both bills. He did not respond to a request for comment.

In a co-sponsorship memo, Hutchinson writes the video surveillance legislation was prompted by “an alarming case” of the agency using an unmarked night vision camera to monitor activities at a DEP-permitted work site.

“It is important that the department retains its ability to conduct reasonable inspections,” Hutchinson writes. “However, citizens should not be subject to video or photo surveillance by DEP, especially without their knowledge. ”

It’s not clear what kind of work site Hutchinson was referring to. DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman says she’s only aware of video surveillance cameras being used at waste sites.

“They used it for illegal dumping,” she says.

As for prohibiting unmarked vehicles at oil and gas sites, Hutchinson claims it can be difficult for a company’s security personnel to distinguish between illegal trespassers and DEP employees, so the agency should be required to display a sign or sticker in a conspicuous location.

According to Witman, the agency uses unmarked cars for purely economic reasons.

“It costs a lot of money to brand the vehicles” she says. “And then when we release a vehicle from service, that makes it more difficult to sell it.”

Both bills have been referred to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Comments

  • DoryHippauf

    If
    the NSA can spy on Americans, why can’t the DEP do surveillance on the
    drillers? What are the drillers afraid of if they are doing nothing
    wrong?

    • TCarlCoffelt

      This issue is bigger than drillers – it’s about giving government agencies authority to clandestine surveillance. If there were probable cause they could obtain a warrant. This is a Constitutional issue that should concern every citizen. This is WORSE than NSA stuff – those people are still required to obtain a warrant to use their metadata.

      • Pastor_Jim

        Are you ready to fund marking cars?

        “According to Witman, the agency uses unmarked cars for purely economic reasons.

        ‘It costs a lot of money to brand the vehicles’ she says. ‘And then
        when we release a vehicle from service, that makes it more difficult to
        sell it.’”

        Is that worth your tax dollars?

        • TCarlCoffelt

          For about $39.00 you can put a magnetic sign on the side. It’s about being open and honest. Your argument is a canard.

          • Pastor_Jim

            $39.00 times how many vehicles, or even times how many offices? Do you have any idea what that dollar amount even looks like?

            My issue is not with magnetic signs nor with anyone specifically, but with a general attitude in our state which is dedicated to cutting taxes on one hand, but spending money cavalierly on the other–without thinking about what things really cost, without carefully considering what that money would (or would no longer) provide.

  • DoryHippauf

    “It is important that the department retains its ability to conduct reasonable inspections,” Hutchinson writes. “However, citizens should not be subject to video or photo surveillance by DEP, especially without their knowledge. ”

    Big question:
    Is a drill site now a citizen?

    • TCarlCoffelt

      A business is allowed the same Constitutional rights as a citizen. You want to create a special set of non-citizens who can be spied on? Where does it stop? Business, Church, organization, where? Do you really want to go there?

  • Paul Bodnick

    Protecting frackers. Join us at Np Fracking Way on Facebook.

  • Julieann Wozniak

    Commercial use of drones becomes legal in 2014. If PADEP can’t or won’t keep track of polluters, then we can do it ourselves and post evidence of their nefarious activities online, in real time. Wonder how much pelf Mr. Hutchinson is getting from industry, which seems to be drafting his legislation?

    • TCarlCoffelt

      It’s not that they can’t or won’t keep track, it’s that they shouldn’t be allowed to do it in a clandestine manner.

      • Unbelieveable

        It is obvious that the proposed legislation is aimed at protecting the companies from PADEP being able to ascertain whether there are violations at any site. Do not the police/FBI/etc. perform undercover activities? I really don’t see how this is any different. The DEP is also required to obtain search warrants and are also subject to the same laws as regular law enforcement agencies. It is blatant and unabashed covering for the gas drilling/production companies.

  • TS

    Regarding the magnetic sign idea – they could be stolen.

    For those touting business rights – you need to realize that if the site is permitted by DEP, then, by law, DEP inspectors have access rights. They are not criminal investigators, and do not need a warrant. They should announce themselves upon arrival. If the land is commonwealth owned, then state agents can install cameras on it.

    Lies are all too easy to tell, and often, near impossible to prove.

  • bob

    This senator is clearly paid by the gas companies. When arriving at the security booth at any drilling location the first thing anyone does is show id. What it says on the vehicle is irrevalent. As for the video there is no expectation of privacy in public. Anyone may video record anything they want wiretapping laws only apply to voice recording.

  • Sick of them Reps

    I live in butler and want to thank the senator for making sure that me and my neighbors are safe…which, after all….is what we elected him to do. I sleep better at night knowing that no matter what, my state representatives are always looking out for me.

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