Monday, July 28, 2014

Sierra Club Testifies at House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on 
Bill to Empower Citizens to Protect Public Lands

Joanne Kilgour, Director, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, 717-232-0101, 412-965-9973 (c)

Williamsport, PA – At today’s House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing in Williamsport, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director Joanne Kilgour testified in support of Rep. Mirabito’s HB 2318, legislation to empower citizens to protect the public lands of the Commonwealth. Co-sponsors of bill include Representatives Kotik, Thomas, McGeehan, Caltagirone, Painter, Carroll, Vitali, Murt, McCarter, Cohen, Pashinski, McNeill, and Dean.

“The public is an essential stakeholder in environmental decision-making regarding lands held in the public trust by the Commonwealth,” said Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club PA Chapter. “It is refreshing to see legislation that will give weight to the public voice in protecting our state forests and which sets forth a framework for a meaningful, formal public participation process with through environmental review,” continued Kilgour.

Ms. Kilgour’s testimony follows.



Good afternoon. First, I would like to thank Chairman Sturla, Chairman Vitali, and the members of this committee for the opportunity to participate in this important hearing. I would also like to thank Rep. Mirabito and the co-sponsors of HB 2318 for your leadership in sponsoring legislation that will empower citizens to protect the public lands of the Commonwealth.

My name is Joanne Kilgour and I am the Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter. Our Chapter has more than 24,500 members statewide, with 10 volunteer-led groups encompassing each region of the Commonwealth. Our members are avid, year-round users of Pennsylvania state lands, and on any given week you are likely to find several Sierra Club volunteer-guided outings in state parks, forests, or game lands. We are, as our mission suggests, exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of Pennsylvania.

In this Commonwealth, our state parks host 38 million visitors each year and contribute $1.2 billion per year to the state economy, providing more than 13,000 quality jobs. Beyond state parks, the outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania represents $21.5 billion in annual consumer spending, 219,000 direct Pennsylvania jobs, $7.2 billion in wages and salaries, and $1.6 billion in state and local tax revenue. This significant benefit to the Commonwealth is a direct result of use by the public for fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, paddling, picnicking, sightseeing, and bird watching. The value to the state that is realized through public exploration, enjoyment, and protection of our shared lands demonstrates that we are key stakeholders who should have a voice in decisions made about the future of the natural places so integral to our way of life.

Last year, my predecessor Jeff Schmidt testified at a hearing similar to today’s, during which he and other witnesses spoke out with a formal request for legislation that would compel public agencies such as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to engage the public in decisions related to the management of our shared lands. Since that time, DCNR’s negotiations with Anadarko regarding natural gas development in the Loyalsock State Forest have proceeded without a formal commitment to allow public access to, and input on, a development plan or surface disturbance management agreement before those documents are finalized; DCNR has published a Shale-Gas Monitoring Report that included a survey of certain recreational users but did not enable formal public comment or information-sharing prior to publication; and the State Auditor General released a report highlighting the unpreparedness and inadequacy of the Department of Environmental Protection in documenting and responding to public complaints about natural gas development.

Since that May 2013 hearing of this Committee, it has only become clearer that the General Assembly of Pennsylvania, guided by the leadership of this Committee, must pass legislation to empower its citizens to protect the shared public lands of the Commonwealth. We recognize that DCNR and other public agencies acting as the trustees of our shared public resources do not have the capacity to be in every corner of every state park or forest. We also recognize that the public – state forest and park users – can help to supplement agency staff and provide valuable insights into the appropriate management of these resources. Now more than ever the role of the Commonwealth and its agencies as a public trustee of these shared lands demands the inclusion of a formal role for the public in environmental decision-making.

The interrelation of the citizens of Pennsylvania and the public lands of the Commonwealth is not only reflected in the mission of environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, but is set forth in Article 1 Section 27 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which states that:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

The legislation at issue in today’s hearing, House Bill 2318, provides a mechanism for implementing citizen participation under the Environment Rights Amendment. Legally required public participation and clearly outlined standards for public input will enhance the likelihood that environmental rights and public trust issues will be considered before a decision is made regarding natural gas development on public lands.  Therefore, HB 2318 will enhance the probability that the amendment will actually be followed and that the on-the-ground decisions of our public agencies will be in line with the guarantees of our constitution.  Formal public input into decisions made about natural gas development on state lands will also reduce the likelihood of expensive and time consuming litigation. Finally, HB 2318 would codify processes to give equal weight to public perspectives in decision-making about the future of
public lands, creating an opportunity to creatively resolve differences in approach before parties get locked into positions that can only be resolved through litigation.

For example, in 2002 DCNR under the Ridge Administration announced a plan to lease more than half a million acres of state forest land for natural gas development with drilling into the Trenton Black River formation, a reserve two to three miles below the surface. The proposal was met with strong opposition from the public, a reaction so significant that Secretary Oliver agreed to open the process to formal public participation. DCNR held six public hearings and accepted a total of nearly 5,000 comments. After consideration of public input and concern, the Department reduced the lease sale to less than half of what it originally proposed and strengthened lease requirements such as setbacks and waiver provisions. Without this formal process, the Department could have hastily leased hundreds of thousands of acres that were unsuitable for such development and engaged in contracts more permissive than appropriate to adequately protect public lands. We support a meaningful, formal public participation process, which includes a thorough environmental review.

In conclusion, HB 2318 will provide a necessary framework for inclusion of the public in decision-making regarding natural gas development on state lands.  Requiring public participation through legislation will help to ensure that our agencies are upholding their responsibility as public trustees and aid in the avoidance of hasty decisions that may not be in the public interest as well as costly litigation. I applaud the effort of Representative Mirabito and look forward to working with you all to ensure the passage of a strong HB 2318, for my future and for generations of public lands explorers to come. Thank you.”


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Salutations & Summer Adventures

Hi! I’m Jasmin, the new social media intern for the Sierra Club. I’ll be blogging for the next couple of months about my summer outdoor adventures, pertinent environmental issues, and ways in which you can combat the forces that aim to make your future less green and less clean. My hope is that my stories motivate you to get outdoors and explore this beautiful world. Maybe you’ll even feel convicted to post a treasured experience or an issue that your community is facing on the SC’s blog. As the social media intern, I also look for suggestions, discussions, and opinions on the way the PA chapter utilizes their social media outlets. So feel free to start a discussion or post a suggestion!

One of my first summer adventures consists of a weekend trip to the Catskill Mountains with my family. If you are unfamiliar with the Catskills, which are located in the great state of New York, picture the Poconos—copious amounts of deciduous trees, trickling streams at every turn, and wild flowers of various hues. The purpose of the trip was to reconnect with family we hadn’t seen in several months but as the weekend progressed, it also became apparent that it was a time to reconnect with nature.  
Our cottage was smushed in a quiet nook of the town Halcottsville. This town is so secluded that locals from a town ten miles out had no idea where we were headed. We were surrounded by silence and peace—the kind that only comes from thick forests. A lake sat a minute’s walk from the house and old train tracks drew their way through the mountainside. It was almost a little too picturesque.

Members of my extended family started arriving at the cottage the next morning.  While the parents sat on the patio and caught up on life, my brother and I took our 10-year-old cousins kayaking on the lake. It was a joy to see how much happiness they received from the landscape. Their day brightened with each new amphibian to observe and animal call to hear. My brother and I love to frequent Blue Marsh to kayak. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get out on the water this summer so sharing our passion with our cousins was a beautiful experience. It was also much needed time to unwind. Kayaking is one of those activities I turn to for comfort.

Throughout the rest of the weekend, we went hiking, built stone sculptures in the creek, ran on the train tracks, and took in our surrounding with silent appreciation.

Nature is so good to us. It provides us with the immeasurable. I admit that I love the city. Urban life is so appealing to me and I hope to move to the Big Apple when I go for my Masters, but I’ll always have a personal connection with the country. There is a beautiful relationship that exists between all things living and alive. So explore this summer—immerse yourself in the sunny days that approach, and share your fun with us. We would love to hear about it!  

~Jasmin :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Auditor General Issues Critical DEP Audit

For Immediate Release

July 22, 2014
Steve Hvozdovich, Clean Water Action, 412-765-3053 x 210 cell - 412-445-9675
Karen Feridun, Berks Gas Truth, 610-678-7726
Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, 215-369-1188 x 102 (rings through to cell)
Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, 215-369-1188 ext. 104
Nadia Steinzor, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, 845-417-6505
Thomas Au, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, 717-234-7445
Nick Kennedy, Mountain Watershed Association, 724-455-4200 x 6
Kristen Cevoli, PennEnvironment, 215-732-5897 ext. 4

Auditor General Issues Critical PA DEP Audit
Pennsylvania Environmental Organizations Applaud Investigation’s Goals 
Report's findings mirror concerns raised by Pennsylvanians dealing with water contamination

Harrisburg, PA – Pennsylvania’s Auditor General office released a highly anticipated audit of the Department of Environmental Protection’s performance regarding shale gas development today.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale stated that the audit “…shows that the meteoric growth of the shale gas industry caught the Department of Environmental Protection unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints”.  The report is available here.

"The Auditor General's inspection is not just a capture of deficiencies within the agency in present time but a call to the future to take actions that will improve agency policies &
operations so that public confidence in the agency can be restored & we can better protect
drinking water & public health", said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Policy Associate,
Clean Water Action.

"For countless Pennsylvanians in the Marcellus and Utica, the Auditor General's findings come as no surprise. His frank assessment of the deficiencies within the DEP accurately tells the story of an agency that was unprepared to deal with shale gas development's impacts on our water supply and, by extension, our communities. The tenor of the agency's response included in the report is discouraging in its denial of many of the problems the Auditor General has cited and its misguided belief that it has satisfactorily addressed some of the other issues, particularly those dealing with transparency and public access to critical data," said Karen Feridun, founder of
Berks Gas Truth.

“PADEP owes it to the people of Pennsylvania and its water, air, and communities to take forthright action to adopt all the findings and recommendations of this comprehensive
performance audit by the Auditor General. The Auditor General has made it clear there is an
expectation that this audit will result in change. The fact that DEP is already contesting the
findings of the report as well as some of the 29 recommendations is a troubling sign that we hope public attention will quickly change,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

“The Auditor General’s report is a sorely needed reality check by an independent office
that knows how to perform a straightforward audit. This professional analysis of PADEP exposes the failings of the agency to effectively regulate the industry during this unprecedented shale gas rush that has gripped the Commonwealth. When you delve into the audit’s details of how and why the industry got ahead of government in Pennsylvania, lessons emerge that provide the guidance needed for critically needed reform at PADEP,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

"The auditor general has confirmed what Pennsylvania residents have long been saying and experiencing: the impacts of gas development are real, intense, and not being addressed,"
says Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "DEP and the legislature
can start putting the public interest first by adopting the report's recommendations, dedicating
more resources to enforcement, and working more closely with communities to solve problems
than they do with industry," said Nadia Steinzor, Eastern Program Coordinator, Earthworks.

“The Auditor General confirmed what many outside observers have been saying --
Pennsylvania residents who live in drilling areas face a significant risk because DEP, the agency tasked to protect them, is Ill-equipped to do so. Pennsylvanians deserve better,” said Tom Au, Conservation Chair, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter.

“Finally the fundamental flaws in the DEP’s management of the impacts from shale gas
development have come to light. The Auditor General’s report vindicates the ever growing
chorus of voices that have been calling on the DEP for years to reform its practices, and for sufficient funding for adequate staffing. Having devoted significant resources to combat the impacts of water contamination, bureaucratic delay, and flawed information on the communities
we serve, we hope this report sparks real change in shale extraction oversight,” said Nick
Kennedy, Community Advocate, Mountain Watershed Association.

“Sadly, this report just validates what most Pennsylvanians already knew,” stated Kristen Cevoli, Fracking Program Director of PennEnvironment. “When it comes to fracking, the Keystone state deserves environmental cops on the beat, instead Pennsylvania’s environment has been left with Keystone cops on the beat. This is just more piece of evidence about why Pennsylvania must take a timeout from fracking until we can ensure the protection of the state’s residents and environment.”

For the last 18 months, environmental and citizens groups have been in touch with DEP
regarding our grave concerns about procedures and policies for water quality monitoring, testing, and response in the face of the shale gas boom. It has long been clear that they lack transparency; result in the withholding of vital data from affected households and the public; force residents to undergo prolonged exposure to contaminants that can impact health; and delay action necessary to correct pollution and ensure that operators provide clean drinking water to those who need it.

The audit confirms that basic reforms are needed to address the harms communities are
experiencing from shale gas development in the Commonwealth.