A Critical Look at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection

Emily Parry

Communications and Public Relations Intern

Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Michael Krancer resigned from his position on April 15th. He left to rejoin the law firm he used to work for, Blank Rome LLP, an international law and lobbying firm that has major clients in the natural gas industry. He wants to work specifically as chair of the firm’s energy, petrochemical, and natural gas resources practice. My question is: whose idea was it to appoint a known proponent for natural gas companies as a major decision-maker and overseer for environmental protection? Oh, right, it was Governor Corbett’s decision. My next question is: in what bizarre universe could this scenario work out to ensure environmental protection?

While serving as the secretary of the DEP, Krancer made many enemies among environmentalists, and regional workers. His lenient restrictions on natural gas drilling and centralized control over issues which local departments previously had jurisdiction over created a sort of dictatorship in the PA DEP. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, just two months after Corbett appointed Krancer to this position, Krancer required individual regional departments to get approval from his office for Marcellus Shale drilling permits, enforcing regulation, or issuing violation notices. So if for example, a Pennsylvania farm owner noticed that her neighbor’s natural gas drill was leaking into her main water source, she and other local citizens couldn’t do anything about it until they got approval from the people in Harrisburg. Basically, Krancer created a maze of red tape that enraged locals looking for justice and disheartened regional officials who lost their autonomy in protecting their local environments and those living in them. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also cited a number of other questionable decisions made by Krancer during his time as secretary of the PA DEP.

“In March 2011, and without public notice, Mr. Krancer gave top administrators in Harrisburg sole power to approve violation notices and enforcement actions in cases involving other state or federal agencies.”

“In September 2012 — again without public notice — he transferred decisions from field offices to Harrisburg administrators about when property owners should be notified of water well contamination related to Marcellus Shale operations.”

“Mr. Krancer has been criticized for the incomplete reporting of well water test results to property owners.”

Krancer was noticeably evasive at a state House appropriations committee meeting when questioned about his views on climate change and its human causes.

 

According to the PA DEP’s website “The Department of Environmental Protection’s mission is to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment. We will work as partners with individuals, organizations, governments and businesses to prevent pollution and restore our natural resources.” There seems to be an obvious disconnect between the department’s mission and who is running the show.

Corbett decided his next brilliant plan of action would be to appoint his deputy chief of staff, Christopher Abruzzo, as the interim secretary of the PA DEP. The confusing thing about this appointment is that Abruzzo is a career prosecutor who specializes in drugs and narcotics and wire tapping for drug related court cases. Abruzzo has no experience in environmental protection. Instead of looking within the DEP, Corbett decided to place one of “his own people” in this vacant position while he decides whom he will appoint permanently.

John Hanger, former secretary of the PA DEP, was appalled when he heard about Abruzzo’s new position. He said, “Morale at DEP is at devastatingly low levels. Corbett’s DEP has failed to adequately regulate gas drilling and taken combative stances when citizens present the agency with legitimate concerns and problems.” He was also quoted saying this was an “irresponsible” decision.

One more peace of this puzzle recently surfaced when State Impact released a report claiming that since 2007, Corbett and his family received at least $15,000 in gifts from Blank Rome, Krancer’s old employer. Many people are speculating that this is one of the reasons Krancer suddenly decided to resign.

In summary, the PA DEP is a mess thanks to Corbett and his “associates” whom he escorts through the revolving door of power in order to feed his financial greed instead of doing his job. The DEP is set up as an institution that it supposed to defend the environment’s best interests, not support those who are exploiting it. If you ask me, at the very least, those in charge at the DEP should be ready to discuss climate change as a serious threat to our planet and should question natural gas drilling practices that are seriously impacting local land and lives. But then again, I’m not in a friendly relationship with Corbett and I never paid him off, so why should he listen to me?