Pennsylvania’s Governor-Elect Nominates Insiders for Top Environmental Posts
New faces will oversee the expanding gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.
3:05 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect a response from the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
Pennsylvania's incoming governor announced his appointments for the top energy and environmental positions this week, naming four men experienced with the state's legislative and administrative process to oversee the growing natural gas industry and the implementation of new regulations governing how the industry drills its wells and disposes of its wastewater.
To head the Department of Environmental Protection, Gov.-Elect Tom Corbett, a Republican, named a judge who has served on a state environmental court for both Democratic and Republican governors. Michael Krancer, whose appointment requires approval by the state senate, is seen as an uncontroversial choice by environmental groups and the industry.
David Masur, director of PennEnvironment, an environmental group, said he is "reservedly optimistic" about Krancer.
"He's the face of the environment for the Corbett administration," he said, "but he only does what his boss tells him to."
Corbett, who is currently Pennsylvania's attorney general, has come out against a proposed gas-extraction tax on the industry. And during his campaign, Corbett said that the DEP has lost its way in recent years, a time when the department has pushed more stringent regulation of the gas industry in the face of criticism that oversight was too lax.
"I will direct the Department of Environmental Protection to serve as a partner with Pennsylvania businesses, communities and local governments," Corbett says on his website. "It should return to its core mission protecting the environment based on sound science."
Companies associated with drilling in the Marcellus Shale contributed more than $800,000 to Corbett over the last few years, compared to just over $100,000 given to his Democratic opponent, according to the website Marcellus Money, which is run by Pennsylvania Common Cause and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania.
Corbett selected Patrick Henderson for a newly created Cabinet-level position to coordinate energy issues. Henderson is currently the director of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Mary Jo White, who has supported expanding drilling operations and resisted some of the stricter regulations of the industry.
Corbett's transition team did not immediately return requests for comment, but his website describes the position Henderson would hold as a "senior advisor" who "will ensure the execution of policy in the best interest of our energy and environmental needs."
The other nominees to DEP positions include John Hines, who is being promoted from within the department, and Jeff Logan, who served under former Gov. Tom Ridge.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, issued a statement praising the nominees and their "proven track records" of protecting the environment while promoting job growth.
Like many other states, Pennsylvania faces a multibillion dollar budget deficit, and it's unclear to what extent this may affect the DEP's staffing. The department has quadrupled its enforcement staff in recent years, despite overall staff cuts at the DEP, but the enforcement staff is still struggling to keep up with the booming industry. We've been covering the expanding natural gas industry for the past couple of years, and drilling in Pennsylvania's share of the Marcellus Shale formation has grown tremendously over that period, with some 1,400 wells drilled last year, up from 210 in 2008.
While environmental groups have generally expressed hope about the nominees, Masur questioned how effective they will be in the face of the new governor's close relationship with the drilling industry.
"How do you go out after aggressive enforcement against an industrial sector that gave a lot of money to your boss?" Masur said. "The proof is in the pudding and we just won't know till they're in their jobs."
The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.
The Story So Far
The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.