Leading Democrat rips DEP spokeswoman

February 15, 2013

A leading Democrat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives has taken a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to task for her characterization of a hearing scheduled Tuesday in Washington.

In a letter dated Thursday, P. Michael Sturla, a representative from Lancaster and chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, criticized Katy Gresh, the director of the DEP’s communications office, for telling the Observer-Reporter a committee hearing on environmental testing would be “political theater.”

“I thought on a subject like clean water, where hopefully the policy committee and DEP have a common purpose, that DEP would welcome the opportunity to let the public and the Legislature know what is currently being done to protect Pennsylvanians,” Sturla wrote. “However, it would appear from your comments … that you perceive transparency as political theater, which is quite unfortunate for the citizens of the commonwealth …”

The exchange was sparked by a story that appeared in the Observer-Reporter Wednesday that reported that no one from the DEP would be attending the meeting. It will be hosted by state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, who has had a testy relationship with the DEP. Gresh told the Observer-Reporter that “DEP’s attention is focused on our core mission of protecting environment, not wasting time on political theater. When our staff and secretary are invited to legislative hearings and other meetings that are productive and professional, we are willing to attend.”

When contacted about Sturla’s letter Friday, Gresh explained by email that “the comment was not a reference to the committee itself, and we do not think legislative hearings are political theater. On the contrary, DEP participates in legislative hearings and other meetings when they are arranged to further the discussion of critical issues. As Rep. Sturla knows, we have answered Rep. White’s questions at length on this issue.”

White said he was pleased with Sturla’s letter and “the request we made to the DEP could not have been more respectful or professional. To me, it’s all so bizarre. We are offering them an open, televised forum to explain why I’m wrong. They’re refusing to participate, but they’ll bash the outcome.”

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. Brad holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from George State University in Atlanta, Ga., and a master’s in popular culture studies from Bowling Green (Ohio) State University. He has covered the arts and entertainment for the O-R, and also worked as a municipal beat reporter. He now serves as editorial page editor.

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