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Environment & Energy

New PA Water Policy Concerns Environmentalists

14 Environmental groups concerned over a new policy in Pennsylvania that they say could negativly impact public health have filed suit calling on the Corbett administartion to rescind the policy.

The recent policy change puts Department of Environmental Protection Administrators in charge of reporting water contamination complaints, which environmentalists say will lead to delays in warning the public of water pollution from oil and gas development.

Specifically, DEP administrators will handle complaints related to oil and gas drilling within the state.

Previously, DEP water quality specialists in district field offices would send out letters to homeowners telling them the water test results for their area. According to the DEP, the shift in policy was made as a result of an Environmental Hearing Board ruling finding that a department determination letter is an appealable action.

The ruling came down in May and declared that a Washington County resident could appeal a negative DEP water testing determination, which the resident contended was inaccurate and incomplete.

Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney for one of the litigants Earthjustice, said it’s not clear if the right decisions will still be made under the new process.

“It’s impossible to say, and the only reason to submit [contamination reports] would be because somebody up high thinks they may want to change them. And that’s what we’re really concerned about,” Goldberg said.

She also said there is no way to tell how long decisions will take under the new policy.

“The fact is that even one [delay] is too many,” she said. “These are decisions that do not require a political decision. This is information that is of great urgency to the public health, and it should be going to the public as quickly as possible.”

Kevin Sunday, spokesperson for the DEP, said environmental groups are simply misunderstanding the change.

“There’s going to be no delay in our communications with landowners,” he said. “When we get the sample results back, we tell them. When we have a new development in the investigation, we tell the landowners. And at the end of our investigation, the letters will go out and they will go out promptly.”