Governor Corbett limits DEP inspectors' authority and power

Can gas companies be limited in Pennsylvania? A new piece by ProPublica reporter Abrahm Lustgarden shows that the Corbett administration has just hamstrung inspectors for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Oil and gas inspectors policing Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania will no longer be able to issue violations to the drilling companies they regulate without first getting the approval of top officials...

The memos require that each of the hundreds of enforcement actions taken routinely against oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania each month now be approved by the department’s executive deputy secretary, John Hines. The memos are raising concerns that the state’s environmental inspectors can no longer act independently and that regulations could be overridden by the political whims of the state’s new governor, Tom Corbett.

“What this apparently is saying is that before any final action, the inspector must get approval by two political appointees: the secretary and the deputy secretary,” said John Hanger, who headed the DEP until January under former Gov. Ed Rendell and worked to strengthen the state’s oil and gas regulations. “It’s an extraordinary directive. It represents a break from how business has been done in the department within the Marcellus Shale and within the oil and gas program for probably 20 years.

There are already cries from community groups. Iris Mary Bloom, Director of Protecting Our Waters wrote in an email today to supporters, "Don't 'read it and weep,' get angry and organized." We will hear more from her on tomorrow's episode of Sustainability Now.

The blogosphere is starting to buzz. Susquehanna River Sentinel is already taking a cynical view, writing "Hmmmmm. Let's see: August 22, 2011 - "Under Governor Corbett's tough new enforcement policies, the number of reported violations related to gas-drilling activities has dropped significantly..." Yep, that is probably what they have in mind."

What do you have in mind? Is this reasonable practice or will it, as Hanger said, "cause the public to lose confidence entirely in the inspection process?"

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