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Environmental Group Seeking Answers on Violations Policy

Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) is asking the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for information about how it enforces its environmental regulations.

PennFuture filed three requests under Pennsylvania's Right to Know law asking for information about a DEP policy that requires inspectors to get agency head approval before issuing Notices of Violation (NOV) (see Shale Daily, April 14; April 1).

The DEP describes that policy as a three-month "pilot project" designed to make sure inspectors are consistently applying regulations across the state, but critics believe it will "chill" the regulatory process.

The statewide environmental group is asking the DEP for all documents connected to the policy. That includes documents outlining which state officials and agencies helped create and implement the policy, as well as information about the three violations identified after the policy became public in late March.

The source of that policy is uncertain, according to PennFuture President Jan Jarrett.

Jarrett said the DEP originally told reporters that the policy came from acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, but later told state lawmakers that it came from the office of Gov. Tom Corbett.

"We need to get to the bottom of this," Jarrett said.

PennFuture also wants to know what role, if any, Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker plays in the policy. Corbett's proposed budget gives Walker the authority to "expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted."

Under the Right to Know law the DEP must respond within five business days, or by May 2, either by providing the documents, denying the request or explaining why the request is being delayed.

Corbett defended the policy at an industry event in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, saying it was not an attempt to tell inspectors "what to do," but "to make sure that we have consistency."

"The worst thing we can do is be inconsistent. The worst thing we can do is say, 'Well, you can do it this way in Meadville, but you can't do it this way in Wilkes-Barre,'" Corbett said at the Appalachian Basin Oil & Gas Seminar, hosted by K&L Gates. "The best thing we can do is give everyone a level playing field, tell them what the rules are at the beginning of the game, and if you violate the rules, we're coming after you."

Corbett said that threat included holding up permits.

"I know how to get the attention of your CEOs, whether they be here in Pennsylvania, or in Oklahoma, or in Texas, or in Louisiana, and that's through the permit," he said. "Don't worry: I will not hesitate to use it if I do not see an effort to protect the environment of Pennsylvania and the water of Pennsylvania."

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