The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee this week gave Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer the opportunity to correct the record on a number of issues facing the agency and to outline his priorities. Video Blog: Watch Krancer's Opening Comments
In an opening statement, Krancer said DEP "must be on the forefront of protecting the public and the environment and must be open and transparent involving public and stakeholder participation while doing so. We owe it to the citizens of Pennsylvania to strive all the time for consistency in decision-making which leads to strong enforcement of the law." He said his priorities for the agency include: 1. A back to basics approach to management, focusing on getting the basic program administered by the department running effectively; 2. Priorities within DEP will be: regulating the natural gas industry, protecting the Chesapeake Bay Watershed and revitalizing brownfield and grayfield properties; and3. The budget. Krancer also said he thinks environmental education needs to be a priority again, along with compliance assistance and pollution prevention. He said he hopes to bring more of a cross-media approach to environmental protection, not separating programs into silos for air, water and the other programs.
Krancer outlined a number of instances where he said the agency and staff were unfairly attacked since taking office in January. He also gave two examples of where opponents have used "bad science" to criticize agency policies.
Back To Basics: Krancer said his agency's staff is anxious to get back to working on its main mission-- protecting the environment. He related a story of a geologist he met in one regional office who said she spends half her time some weeks being an funding administrator for a solar energy project. "If she wanted to be a loan officer, she would have gone to work for a bank, but that's not what she came to DEP for," Krancer said. Over 100 DEP Air, Waste and Water Quality field staff use all or part of their time to act as managers for federal stimulus projects, projects funded by the Energy Harvest and PA Energy Development Authority programs taking time away from permit reviews, inspections and compliance activities.
Maybe once these projects end, Krancer said, "I'll get fewer calls about permits stuck in the review process."
Marcellus Permit "Rubber Stamp:" Krancer said a recent news article attacked four DEP staff by name for what it said was rubber stamping Marcellus Shale permit reviews, when in fact it was a lawyer attempting to try an appeal of a DEP action taken by the previous Administration in the press. The reporter just took the quotes from the lawyer at face value and did not know the Marcellus gas permit is not only reviewed by a geologist, but for meeting well casing requirements, water quality, erosion and sedimentation and other requirements. Krancer said it's his job to take on attacks like that, not his employees. He said he told his employees if they do their job, he will "have their backs." He also said he inherited a "balkanized" Oil and Gas Program where three different regions and Central Office each have pieces of the program. "I'm not happy with that, we need more focus and need to be coordinated," Krancer said. "Any ideas I'm delighted to have (for changing the program)."
Marcellus Shale Enforcement: Krancer said it was never his order to review all notices of violation before they were issued in the Oil and Gas Program as reported in news articles.
"I'm here to tell you inspectors were never under an order or directive or anything else to clear through Mike Krancer or anybody else in Central Office to write notices of violation. That story was blown way out of proportion; it was never the case," said Krancer. He said what he is doing is focusing on consistency and making sure notice of violations and enforcement actions stand up when they are challenged in court.
He noted the state Oil and Gas Act requires the DEP Secretary to approve well shutdown orders and his agency has already taken a number of actions this year to shutdown operations not complying with the law. Krancer read a letter to the Committee from the Galeton Water Authority thanking DEP staff for taking prompt action in one recent case to shutdown an operation. He also pointed to the recent call to Marcellus Shale drillers to stop taking their wastewater to public treatment plants exempted from complying with the new Total Dissolved Solids water quality standards by the previous Administration. "We got compliance in 28 hours, not 28 days" using the approach we did, Krancer said. Krancer objected to assertions by some that Pennsylvania's Marcellus regulations are inadequate and said the Commonwealth now compares well with other states.
He said his main job in regulating Marcellus Shale drilling is to protect the water. "At the end of the day, my job is to make sure gas is done and gas is done right," said Krancer.
General Approach To Enforcement: As another example of his general attitude on enforcement, Krancer pointed to an opinon he wrote as an Environmental Hearing Board judge-- DEP v. Leeward Construction (2001 EHB 870)-- where he asked the question about whether the penalty imposed in the case was high enough given the flagrant and deliberate nature of the violations by the defendant. In particular, he said, he encouraged DEP staff throughout his career as a judge to bring him evidence of any economic benefits a violator gained by not complying with the law. The opinion says in part, "Allowing Leeward in these circumstances to have profited at all from this transaction is not only wrong, but also it puts at a competitive disadvantage companies that take the steps and incur the costs to perform their activities in a law abiding fashion. This latter situation creates a synergy of adverse effect by simultaneously promoting the degradation of the environment and undermining the competitive free market system."
"I want to leave a legacy as a good enforcer," said Krancer.
Oil and Gas Act Penalties: Krancer said in response to a question Gov. Corbett supports an increase in penalties under the Oil and Gas Act.
Adequacy Of Oil and Gas Enforcement Staff: When asked if DEP had enough staff to enforce Oil and Gas Act requirements, Krancer said the agency is constantly looking at enforcement and permitting capabilities and will adjust its staff accordingly. He noted well permit fees make the Oil and Gas Program self-funding and natural gas severance tax proposals typically do not help fund DEP staff.
Reuse Of Water: Several members of the Committee suggested there may be barriers to reusing public wastewater treatment effluent, treated acid mine drainage and treated drilling wastewater as fracking water and for other industrial process waters. Krancer said he would look into the issues because reusing water would be a win for everyone.
Chesapeake Energy Well Blowout: Krancer told the Committee the agency needs answers to hard questions about how the Chesapeake Energy Marcellus well in Bradford County got out of control, spilling thousands of gallons of fracking water. He said he wants to know the answers to questions like, "Why did it take so long get a well capper out there." He noted all of Chesapeake Energy wells in Pennsylvania are now shut down pending the investigation of the blowout, which was verified by DEP staff.
Working the Federal Government: Krancer said it has been difficult, at times, to work with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Office of Surface Mining when they suddenly, it seems, came to the conclusion that Pennsylvania is doing things wrong in regulating Marcellus gas wells and in issuing NPDES water quality permits. He said officials, like Steve Heare, head of EPA's Drinking Water Protection Division, said just a year ago that DEP was doing a good job. He also pointed to the non-profit review group STRONGER which also concluded Pennsylvania was doing a good job regulating Marcellus Shale. He said the day-to-day working environment with EPA is being made more difficult when staff level discussion "transcripts" on issues related to Marcellus Shale suddenly end up in articles published in the New York Times out of context. Krancer said House Resolution 87 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) which urges EPA to stop its oversight of state NPDES water quality permits and restore the federal-state relationship of past years is a good message for the state to send. (The resolution was adopted by the House this week.)
He also noted EPA's approach to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay does not recognize the fact that Pennsylvania has thousands of local governments and frequently does not count the good work done by the state's farmers to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution.
"Suddenly DEP has gotten feckless and incompetent since January 19 (Gov. Corbett's swearing in day)," said Krancer. "The Department is on the job and doing a good job. We have 2,600 of some of the best employees."
Energy Policy Formulation: Krancer said there will be significant changes in the way the state's energy policy is done. In the past, the DEP Secretary was the be-all and end-all for energy policy. "You're not going to see that anymore," Krancer said. He said he will be part of a team, working with the Governor's Energy Executive Patrick Henderson, to address energy issues.
He noted Pennsylvania needs a diversified energy portfolio-- nuclear, coal, natural gas, solar and wind-- for the future.
Examples of Bad Science: Krancer pointed to two recent examples of what he called "bad science" which attempt to influence public policy. One was a Cornell University study which wrongly concluded the carbon footprint of natural gas was even larger than coal. Independent analysts concluded the study overstates the carbon emissions by at least 75 percent. The other was a report by Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives on hazardous chemicals and carcinogens in Marcellus Shale fracking fluids which Krancer called "unconscionable" for its misrepresentation of basic information and the public health risk.