Critics of the natural gas industry who contend that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been, shall we say, indolent when it comes to its watchdog functions since the Corbett administration starting filling the agency with its appointees were handed some powerful ammunition for their arguments last week.
StateImpact Pennsylvania, which covers the Marcellus Shale industry for the public radio stations WHYY-FM in Philadelphia and WITF-FM in Harrisburg, reported that Penn State University scientists who have been compiling a study outlining how climate change could affect the commonwealth were apparently pressured by the DEP’s policy office to omit any reference to a controversial argument by a scientist at Cornell University that natural gas is, in fact, dirtier than coal and more harmful to the environment, thanks to the methane that can be emitted in the production process.
Even though the finding has been subject to much contentious debate, the Penn State scientists wanted to include it so the study would encompass the whole range of thought on the subject. But, last year, the policy office apparently sent email messages to the scientists urging that any reference to it be erased. One of the Penn State scientists replied to one of the DEP’s policy specialists that neglecting to mention the findings on natural gas “is kind of tough ground for me because I believe our job is to provide you with the relevant science … It raises ethical issues to be asked to remove peer reviewed work if we believe providing it is appropriate.”
The Penn State scientists eventually won the argument and the material will be used in the report, which is now 18 months overdue. In that time, the manager of the DEP’s climate change program turned in his resignation, saying that the department and the Corbett administration evinced no interest in anything related to climate change.
It’s time to ask who precisely the DEP is working for: all of Pennsylvania’s residents, or just one industry?