Next week’s House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Washington on environmental testing will be held without anyone attending from the agency at the focus of the hearing.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has declined to attend.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, will host the hearing beginning at 2 p.m. Tuesday in the public meeting room of the Washington Courthouse Square building, 100 W. Beau St.
White, who has been at odds with the DEP, said the hearing is designed to examine the department’s policies and procedures related to air and water quality testing near Marcellus Shale drilling sites in the state.
DEP Secretary Michael Krancer declined an invitation to attend. In a news release, White noted he was disappointed but not surprised.
Katy Gresh, director of DEP’s communications office, noted Krancer is willing to attend meetings if they are productive and professional.
“DEP’s attention is focused on our core mission of protecting the environment, not wasting time on political theater. When our staff and the secretary are invited to legislative hearings and other meetings that are productive and professional, we are willing to attend,” she replied in an email.
White said the hearing will not be a debate about natural gas drilling, but rather an examination of how DEP is operating when it comes to environmental concerns stemming from natural gas drilling.
Scheduled to testify are several Pennsylvania residents critical of DEP’s handling of issues on their properties, and a coalition of environmental organizations, including Earthworks and PennFuture.
White proposed new legislation, H.B. 268, which would require the DEP to provide full results from any testing.
“If DEP is truly doing everything as well as they claim, you would think they would welcome the opportunity to prove it in a public forum; their refusal to do so really says quite a bit about the DEP’s lack of commitment to transparency and public accountability,” White said.
Gresh noted that the agency has communicated to White twice by letter in November explaining how the testing is done and results evaluated.
The House Democratic Policy Committee, chaired by state Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, hosts public hearings across the state to help judge the impact that state policies and legislation have at regional levels. The hearings provide lawmakers with public input on the House Democratic Caucus’ policy initiatives.