Pennsylvania

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DePasquale Prepares To Audit PA’s Department of Environmental Protection

Mary Wilson / WITF

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale and his family at Tuesday's swearing-in ceremony.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection may want to start getting its ledgers in order.

Following through on a campaign promise, newly-installed Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has already taken the first steps towards conducting a performance audit of DEP’s Marcellus Shale regulation.

Speaking during his swearing-in ceremony Tuesday, the Democrat made it clear he’s not against natural gas drilling itself, acknowledging it, “has brought enormous opportunities to small towns and rural communities throughout the state, and [created] new wealth in many of those areas.” But the former DEP staffer and state representative worries Pennsylvania’s shale boom “poses challenges to our environmental regulators, our local communities, and our natural resources.”

DePasquale says he wants to make sure hydraulic fracturing doesn’t leave the same long-term damage that Pennsylvania’s prior energy booms created. “Our Pennsylvania waterways are still suffering, despite billions of dollars spent on cleanup from inadequate oversight of the coal industry in previous generations,” he said.  “And you don’t have to be that old to remember the cost of doing nothing when our steel plants needed additional investments, they become cleaner and more competitive.”

The audit’s goal, says DePasquale, is to “make sure the department has all the appropriate resources they can to do their job to protect our water and our land.” Performance audits typically measure whether or not state agencies or programs are achieving their stated goals, or utilizing money or resources effectively.

So how does DEP feel about the impending audit? The agency, “looks forward to assisting and working with the Auditor General and his staff to demonstrate how we are doing our job well to protect our water resources,” spokeswoman Katy Gresh tells StateImpact Pennsylvania in a written statement.

Citing new drilling regulations imposed by Act 13 and a stiff penalty handed down to Chesapeake Energy in 2011 for methane migration violations, Gresh insists, “Pennsylvania is a national leader in protecting our environment and ensuring that our natural resources are developed responsibly. DEP’s more than 2,600 men and women work hard at protecting Pennsylvania’s environment and providing sound, fact-based, lawful regulation of all of our job-producing industries.”

DePasquale formally kicked off the audit process yesterday by sending DEP Secretary Michael Krancer a letter of engagement, which lays out the audit’s scope. DePasquale spokesman Barry Ciccocioppo says the probe will focus on DEP actions between 2009 and 2012. He expects auditors to begin meeting with DEP staffers within the next two weeks.

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