Pennsylvania

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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.

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