The Inside Story
Pennsylvania SIP Fight Escalates
Posted: January 6, 2012
Pennsylvania's top environmental official is asking EPA to dismiss activists' petition that claims the state is violating its own air quality plan for meeting agency air standards by offering streamlined permits for hydraulic fracturing operations in the state -- claims the state strongly rejects.
The fight over Pennsylvania's state implementation plan (SIP) highlights long-running concerns from environmentalists about emissions from fracking operations in states on the Marcellus Shale. The activist group Clean Air Council's (CAC) challenge to the SIP, which outlines how the state intends to comply with EPA air standards, includes claims that Pennsylvania failed to provide adequate notice and access to information on “minor” source Clean Air Act permits for drilling operations in the state -- permits that activists say are inadequate to control emissions.
Michael Krancer, secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), sent a Jan. 5 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson saying the petition “lacks merit. . . . EPA should promptly dismiss this without any further action.” It adds that the state and EPA “should not be unnecessarily distracted by this contrived and irrational petition from the important and serious work our agencies perform.”
The letter adds that DEP “has expanded the public participation process in appropriate instances to include public meetings and public hearings,” and asserts that it is in full compliance with its latest SIP -- which the state submitted to EPA but which the agency has yet to approve. EPA-approved SIPs outline enforceable air pollution reduction policies and mandates. The 2008 SIP changes include a controversial “streamlined” minor source permit process that has resulted in inadequate permitting of Marcellus Shale drilling sources, CAC charged in its Nov. 28 petition asking EPA to find that Pennsylvania fails to comply with its SIP. The SIP fight comes in the midst of CAC and EPA opposition to a related Pennsylvania DEP drilling guidance that seeks to set a first-time distance threshold for when drilling emissions sources must be combined, or aggregated, for permit purposes, likely expanding the definition of minor sources.
Now CAC is quickly criticizing Krancer's letter to EPA, issuing a Jan. 6 statement that says, “It is clear from the public outcry that a 'streamlined' process is inappropriate for Marcellus Shale 'minor source' permits.” The statement adds that the minor source permit hearing Krancer announced was scheduled only after 60 citizens filed requests. “Citizens should not have to force a public hearing on every compressor station because the notice and access to information is insufficient.”
CAC also points out that because EPA has not approved the SIP changes, the streamlined permit provisions are unlawful. “Further, the revision frustrates the underlying purpose of public notice and comment periods and does not meet Clean Air Act requirements. The council expects that EPA will deny the revision and force Pennsylvania to revoke its 'streamlined' permitting program.”
Jay Duffy, Esq.
Clean Air Council
As this story carries on, we'll be sure to follow it.