State Rep. Jesse White is criticizing the state Department of Environmental Protection for its slow response to his right-to-know request asking for answers about the scope of a leak at a Marcellus Shale water impoundment in Cecil Township.
White had filed a right-to-know request with the DEP on April 5 asking the regulatory agency to release records and permit information regarding the Worstell water impoundment on Swihart Road that is operated by Range Resources.
The DEP had five business days to fulfill the request, meaning White expected to receive an answer by Monday morning. He did not hear from the DEP until Wednesday, when it asked for a 30-day continuance on the request, which is permitted by state law.
“They dragged their feet as long as they could,” White said.
But what especially irked White is that his Democratic colleague in the state Senate, Tim Solobay, claimed to have an extensive meeting with DEP to discuss the situation at the water impoundment. The DEP had no comment on White’s claim that it also has ignored his requests to meet personally with officials.
“They ignored me and apparently met with (Solobay) extensively,” White said. “Here I sit with no response from (DEP) nearly two weeks later. What can they say to the senator that they can’t say to me? We represent the same area.”
DEP officials acknowledged that there was a leak in a holding tank containing recycled wastewater, not the impoundment, resulting in 30 gallons escaping from the tank in November 2011. There also was a spike in the total amount of dissolved solids at the impoundment site last fall, although the DEP does not think the two events are connected.
“We have made our initial response to Rep. White’s right-to-know request in the time required by law and are continuing to work on his request,” DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said. “The law affords us a 30-day extension.”
Solobay, though, said he requested a meeting with the DEP after hearing reports of a leak. He said he met with DEP officials last Wednesday and later talked to Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella about the situation. He said both told him “there was no leak in the pond and no tear in the liner.”
However, he was unaware of the leak in the holding tank until speaking to a reporter late Wednesday afternoon. Solobay plans to follow up with the DEP to find out more information about the problem with the tank.
Meanwhile, White sent an email Wednesday afternoon to nearly a dozen state and DEP officials expressing “extreme disappointment” about the lack of a response. He complained the regulatory agency also ignored an email he sent three days after his formal request in an attempt to streamline a response to his questions.
“The DEP’s strategy of delay and denial of information is well-documented, as the tactic appears to be focusing on the process story to distract from substance,” White wrote in the email that also was distributed to several news outlets. “You hope that by attempting to make me appear unreasonable or irrational, it minimizes the legitimacy of my requests. Due respect, the DEP is engaging in exactly the kind of ‘political theater’ you claim to abhor.”
White said he will continue to focus on the situation at the water impoundment and work to get answers about the leak.
“If they’re hiding something, why are they hiding it?” White said. “It makes no sense at all. This is information that any resident of Pennsylvania should theoretically be able to request.”