Journalism in the Public Interest

PA Environment Gets the Axe – Environmental Permitting To Be Streamlined

Governor’s proposed budget would cut environmental protections and streamline regulatory processes to encourage job creation.


The McKeesport Sewage Treatment Plant, one of nine plants on the Monongahela River that has treated wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations. (Joaquin Sapien/ProPublica)

A budget proposal released today by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett emphasizes jobs creation and looks to cuts in environmental protection and permitting as one way to save money.

It will take some time to wade through the 1,184-page document—we’ll post a more complete story tomorrow.

But a quick glance shows that the Department of Environmental Protection will face reduced funding across the board, including in its water safety and water treatment programs.

The state has been under pressure recently to reign in environmental damage from its fast-growing natural gas drilling industry, and has faced criticism--including in a 2009 ProPublica investigation—-for its inability to handle and safely treat wastewater produced from the drilling process. In response, the DEP has added staff, implemented stricter drilling rules, and begun permitting and building new and improved water treatment plants.

That momentum could now change.

The governor’s proposal also includes, on page 48, this statement about streamlining the regulatory process:

Regulatory Reform: Friction-free processes for government interaction with job creators are critical to maintain economic momentum and competitiveness. State government needs to be a partner with job creators. To address the length of time agencies take to act on permits and eliminate permit backlogs, PennDOT and DEP have begun auditing and assessing all of their permit processes to make them more responsive to the needs of job creators. In addition, the DCED secretary is empowered to expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.”

The governor’s staff did not immediately respond to calls for comment. We’ll try them again tomorrow.

If Americans were aware of their own history, they would recognize the current era as an echo of the era from about 1870-1930, when capitalist criminals ruled the country. For a large portion of that era, there were zero laws protecting the earth, women, children, workers. The rich and powerful, the brutal and dangerous- they ruled the rest of the populace with the collusion of government. Now it is all happening again. And because many Americans don’t care about health, beauty, birds, trees, oceans, rivers, lakes, forests or quality of life, it is easy for modern capitalist criminals and their whorish allies in government to sell America to the lowest and most dangerous bidders.

Karl you are exactly right—what is happening is now not just the gradual erosion of these advances but a real sudden jump to enabling large corporations to flaunt the intent of environmental regulations.  In PA there has only been additions of personel in the DEP to the Oil and Gas Division—the O&G group is about developing the industry. THere have been consistent cuts at the DEP in water and air and enforcement—this will now speed up and accelerate. THere just are not enough inspectors and their is no political will to enforce statutes especially in water pollution from oil and gas wastewater.

Karl, you hit the nail on the head with your comment regarding the fact that so many Americans no longer care about the environment.  They make no connection between their own health and that of their loved ones with environmental degradation.  I was playing beach volleyball one day with a group of people.  Somehow the talk got around to the environmental issues and a few conservative types began bashing “hippies and tree huggers”.  One woman flatly said she didn’t care if there were trees along the coast or anywhere for that matter because she would be dead in forty years anyway.  Her four year old daughter sat just a few feet away playing in the sand.

Pennsylvania has elected Chauncey Gardiner governor.

From Corbett’s budget statement:

“In many ways what we need to do is the same as reviving an abandoned apple tree. If the tree isn’t tended and the branches pruned, that tree will grow into a tangle of limbs and leaves. But it will bear no fruit. We need to take this tree, so long overgrown, and cut back what isn’t fruitful. And we need to do that essential pruning on all branches of government. We need to do the hard cutting so the tree can once again bear fruit. And that fruit is jobs.”

From Janet Maslin’s NY Times review of the 1979 film of Jerzey Kosinski’s novel “Being There”:

“Having lived his life as the gardener on a millionaire’s estate, Chance (Peter Sellers) knows of the real world only what he has seen on TV. When his benefactor dies, Chance walks aimlessly into the streets of Washington D.C., where he is struck by a car owned by wealthy Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine). Identifying himself, the confused man mutters “Chance…gardener,” which Eve takes to be “Chauncey Gardiner.” Eve takes him to her home to convalesce, and because Chance is so well-dressed and well-groomed, and because he speaks in such a cultured tone, everyone in her orbit assumes that “Chauncey Gardiner” must be a man of profound intelligence. No matter what he says, it is interpreted as a pearl of wisdom and insight. He rises to the top of Washington society, where his simplistic responses to the most difficult questions (responses usually related to his gardening experience) are highly prized by the town’s movers and shakers. In fact, there is serious consideration given to running Chance as a presidential candidate. Both a modern fable and a political satire, Being There was based on the novel by Jerzy Kosinski

Karl Stevens is exactly right and it is because Americans are so ignorant about their own history that they are allowing this to happen. Teddy Roosevelt fought tooth and nail against unscrupulous industrialists who cared only about profit and thought nothing of destroying everything in their path.  For those interested in the wilderness legislation from the 1870’s through 1930, the relatively new book by Douglas Brinkley entitled ” Wilderness Warrior : Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America”. It is the most inspiring book I have ever read and we all MUST keep fighting…..or our land and valuable animals, birds, and fish shall be wiped out forever.

The same thing is going on in Minnesota.

Dianna Jackson

March 11, 2011, 6:04 p.m.

While I am alarmed at what is going on with PA and fracking (I have read your excellent reporting on the subject), the people of PA are getting the government they elected.  I’m so glad that I live in CA where a majority of the people of the state support environmental actions.  Hence, we have a Democratic governor and two Democratic senators.

People need to wake up.  Elections matter.  The GOP is the party of big biz.  Always has been.  If you want clean air and water, it’s a no brainer.  Vote for the Democratic candidate.  If you think big biz should get what they want, vote GOP. 

If your elected official(s) are doing things that they did not campaign on, recall them.  Heck, we recalled a sitting governor and got Arnold the governator.  And Gray Davis was recalled on far less egregious behavoir that allowing companies to ruin the environment.

I recently read and “The Wrecking Crew” (Thomas Franks) and “The Shock Doctrine” (Naomi Klein). These books outline very well what the conservatives’ game plan is. Give corporations what they want, de-fund and dis-empower the left, starve government so it’s incompetent & then attack it; and when you do get in power, make a lot of changes very quickly. We are seeing that play out right now. It doesn’t help that the Supreme Court is in their corner, they will get to redistrict the Congressional seats in most states, and journalism is fading away. I don’t know where the good news is, but I’m grateful for ProPublica!

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