During a state Senate confirmation hearing, the acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) promised to let "sound science" guide his decisions about Marcellus Shale activity in the state.
"We will be a civil and respectful department in our relationships with the regulated community," Michael Krancer told the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on Wednesday. "DEP wants to, should and does work with those that we regulate to achieve compliance. That's important. However, when there is noncompliance, or when there is a violation, or when there is an honest good-faith disagreement... we can and we do and we will act in a manner that is based on sound science, protecting the public and protecting the environment."
The committee unanimously approved the nomination, which now goes before the full Senate.
Although appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett just six week ago, Krancer is already taking fire for rolling back two natural gas development regulations enacted last year during the administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell.
The first required well operators to work with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) on an environmental review as part of the DEP well permit application on state forests and park land (see Shale Daily, Feb. 23. The second outlined how the DEP should determine whether several small but connected sources of air pollution should be grouped together (see Shale Daily, March 1a).
Krancer said the first policy didn't add any protections not already guaranteed by Section 205c of the Oil and Gas Act, which requires DEP to consider the impact of a proposed well permit on public resources. "The policy really singled out a particular genre, if you will, of interest and gave it a particular kind of treatment," he said.
John Quigley, the secretary of DCNR under Rendell, has challenged the idea that the policy was redundant, saying it plugged "gaping holes" in the state's ability to manage potential development at parks and forests.
Rescinding the policy, though, did not lift a moratorium in place over leasing in state parks and forests.
Krancer also felt that the forest policy didn't get a proper review. "We thought, at the end of the day, that we'd like to hear what the public had to say about how Section 205c should be implemented," he told the committee.
Krancer made similar criticisms about the air quality policy.
"It didn't mandate anything," Krancer said about the guidance document. "It didn't require anything. It didn't prohibit anything. Not one atom of air emissions were prevented or facilitated by that document."
Krancer noted that federal law requires these "single source determinations" to be made on a case by case basis, according to a specific set of criteria. "So my first question was: what role would a guidance bring to the table?" he said, adding, "I don't know the answer to that yet and that's one of the reason I want public input."
The DEP is now taking comments on those air quality issues through May 26.
Discussions of "sound science" drove the hearing.
"In our previous administration they fought tooth and nail to not have regulations based on sound science that is replicable," Vice Chair Edwin Erickson, a Republican from the southeastern Pennsylvania said, before asking Krancer if he would support legislation that would require the DEP to make decision based on "sound science." But Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from southeastern Pennsylvania, said "sound science" often leads to warring experts and gridlock. "What level of scientific consensus does there have to be before we can act on a problem?" he asked.
The DEP is coming under national scrutiny following a New York Times article claiming that Pennsylvania doesn't adequately regulate the wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, March 1b).
"I disagree very strongly with many of the assertions in that article," Krancer said.
In particular, he said the article misrepresented the amount of inspections conducted by the DEP in recent years, downplayed the increasing role of wastewater recycling in the natural gas industry and failed to account for new disposal regulations enacted last year to protect local waterways.
Following a legal career at several Philadelphia law firms, Krancer served on the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board from October 1999 to April 2007. After an unsuccessful run for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, he worked as assistant general counsel for Exelon Corp. until Rendell reappointed him to the Environmental Hearing Board in 2009.