Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP Cancels Meeting with Enviro’s Due to “Intemperate Message”

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A man helps deliver donations of clean water to residents of Butler County who say gas drilling polluted their water supply. DEP officials had told residents that nearby drilling was not the cause. So free water deliveries by the gas producer ended.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection says a decision to cancel a meeting with a coalition of environmental organizations over residential water tests was due to an “intemperate message” one group posted on the internet.

The meeting, initiated by Clean Water Action, was scheduled for January 24th, but organizers say DEP unexpectedly cancelled the meeting a day before, without explanation. The groups say they requested the sit-down with DEP staffers as a fact-finding mission to gain clarity over how DEP reports water quality results to residents concerned about the impact of natural gas drilling. Last November, StateImpact reported on testimony in a deposition of a DEP employee, which seemed to indicate that not all contaminants found in sampled water were reported to residents.

DEP denies that its protocols hide any important information from residents. In a letter to State Rep. Jesse White, Secretary Michael Krancer defended his department’s policy on water quality reports.

But the environmental groups say they’re not convinced that DEP is completely transparent, and have more questions for DEP staff. Iris Marie Bloom is with Protecting Our Waters, one of the groups that had scheduled to meet with DEP.

“It is clear that people who have impacted water have not gotten complete information about what’s in their water,” said Bloom. “What is not clear is what the rationales are, and what can be done to protect impacted residents. And how DEP’s policies can be changed in the direction of protecting public health.”

DEP says it cancelled the meeting due to a message posted on the website of the group Marcellus Protest, which had posted a meeting to plan a “take down” of Secretary Krancer. DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday calls the post “intemperate” and attributes it to the liaison for the coalition, Clean Water Action. Clean Water Action says their original post did not include the “take down” language.

CWA staffer Steve Hvozdovich says CWA has worked effectively with DEP through several administrations, both Republican and Democrat. But, he says, that does not mean the agency should expect the organization to refrain from criticizing policies it thinks would not protect the environment and public health.

“I didn’t see the NRA’s traditionally aggressive tone toward President Obama’s [gun control] policies prevent them from having a seat at the table,” said Hvozdovich.

Protecting Our Waters’ organizer Iris Marie Bloom says DEP should not engage in “collective punishment.”

“I can see where [Secretary Krancer's] feelings would be hurt by the language [of the post],” says Bloom. “But this is a very serious discussion we’re trying to have and [to cancel the meeting] is an inappropriate reaction.”

Bloom says by her count, hundreds of Pennsylvania residents have experienced water issues related to Marcellus Shale drilling.

DEP says they are willing to reschedule, as long as Clean Water Action is not at the table.

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