FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – June 25, 2021
Contact: Karen Feridun, Better Path Coalition, 610-678-7726, firstname.lastname@example.org
Toxic Culture at Environmental and Health Agencies Persists a Year after Grand Jury Report
A Statement from the Better Path Coalition
Since a Grand Jury concluded a year ago that the state government wasn’t protecting Pennsylvanians from fracking, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health have made no discernible changes to the way they do business. In fact, the only action resulting from the report was taken last month when the Attorney General and Senate Democrats announced a package of bills to address eight recommendations made by the Grand Jury.
Legislation may be able to address a few issues, but it can’t change the culture at our regulatory agencies.
Reading the DEP’s defensive responses to the report captured in a fact sheet published last year by Shapiro’s office provided some vindication to Pennsylvanians who have been on the receiving end of the contempt some regulators have for them. The agency dismissed the accounts of witnesses by calling them hearsay and said that photos appearing in the report were doctored. DEP thinks categorizing toxic, radioactive drilling waste as ‘residual waste’ is fine and thinks health impacts cited by the Grand Jury are insignificant. In the year since, it has come as no surprise when the agency has been unresponsive to the people and has continued to prioritize the needs of the industry, including companies charged during the same Grand Jury investigation with felonies and misdemeanors. How many criminal charges does it take to disqualify a company from receiving more permits? It’s past time for DEP to start answering questions like that and if the agency won’t do it on its own, then it’s time for Governor Wolf to insist that it does.
The Department of Health was less pugnacious in its response, but just as disinclined to learn anything from the findings. The agency denied responsibility, blamed the previous administration, and has done nothing to address community member and public health advocate demands to monitor radioactive waste streams and other shale gas development emissions, while testing residents for exposures to toxic compounds from these sources. Public health advocates urge the DOH to interact more directly with physicians and communities and to use readily available, existing resources to educate them on the risks of living in proximity to shale gas development and to show up in and engage with communities to repair trust and respond to their concerns, and fulfill demands regarding prospective studies that directly address the concerns brought to Governor Wolf in November 2019. As designed, the retrospective academic studies continue to ignore radioactive waste streams, fall short of the DOH’s mission of the prevention of injury and disease, and fail to help residents and workers know whether or not it is currently safe to live and work in their respective environments. The full amount of money— $3.9M, as opposed to the current work order for $2.6M —to address these concerns was already promised and should be allocated immediately to address the inadequacies of the investigations.
Anniversaries are usually to be celebrated. This anniversary of inaction will not be an occasion for celebration to those who continue to wait for their government to help them.