Pennsylvania

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Protesters Criticize DEP’s Oversight of Gas Industry

Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

Protesters hold up hundreds of letters from concerned citizens outside the DEP headquarters in Harrisburg.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the Harrisburg headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Protection today. They say the agency is failing to protect the public from the risks associated with natural gas development.

About 50 people turned out for the protest, which was organized by several environmental groups, including the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, Clean Water Action, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. They also delivered hundreds of letters from concerned residents around the state to the agency.

One of their main concerns relates to the way the agency conducts water testing related to gas drilling. The protesters pointed to testimony from a DEP employee who said that although the agency’s laboratory tests for a full range of heavy metals, the lab does not report all of the test results to residents.

DEP officials say reporting those results to residents would be irresponsible because they have not been verified.

“[The DEP] not only wants to withhold data from our water wells,” says Susquehanna County resident Rebecca Roter, “They want to marginalize our voices and not document what is happening to our water and our air.”

The group also criticized outgoing DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who will step down from the agency next week to work on behalf of energy companies at a Philadelphia law firm.

“I don’t think there is a revolving door,” says Sullivan County resident John Trallo. “I don’t think there is a door anymore. It’s just one big good old boys club. This has to stop.”

There was a brief standoff between the protesters and security officers inside the DEP office building.

The agency initially did not send a representative to physically receive the letters, so the protesters sat down inside the lobby of the building and refused to leave. After about 15 minutes, a staffer from the mail room showed up and took the letters.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday responded in an email to StateImpact Pennsylvania:

We had invited in and offered to meet with these groups before to have a civil, reasoned discussion, but they have refused and indicated they were not interested in such a dialogue. Clean Water Action made it clear they wanted to “take down” Secretary Krancer, not have questions answered. We will address their questions and concerns in the near future.

Sunday is referring to a meeting originally scheduled for January 24th between the DEP and environmental groups. The agency cancelled the meeting shortly before it was supposed to happen, citing a message posted on the website of the group Marcellus Shale Protest, which stated the meeting would be a “takedown” of Krancer. Clean Water Action says their original post did not include the “takedown” language.

 

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