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State Energy Official: Door Is Open For Environmental Groups, Oil/Gas Execs Alike

A recent series of stories produced by The Allegheny Front and 90.5 WESA explored the influence of industry money on Pennsylvania’s oversight of the natural gas boom.

In one of the reports, there was an assertion from environmental group PennFuture that the former head of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was available mostly to industry:

But where oil and gas interests were able to make their voices heard in Allan’s office, some groups, like the environmental watchdog PennFuture, feel they’ve been shut out of the process. “Our recent experiences are that the current administration seems to have a door that’s wider open to industry than it is to the public and citizens’ groups,” says PennFuture Chief Counsel George Jugovic. The industry is investing substantial resources to lubricate the hinges on that door. Since the drilling boom began in 2007, oil and gas interests have outspent environmental groups $34 million to $1.5 million on lobbying in the state. Allan’s calendar records no meetings with PennFuture, or with the Pennsylvania Sierra Club—two of the leading organizations in Pennsylvania’s anti-fracking movement. Both groups were regularly included in conversations with DCNR under previous administrations.

Patrick Henderson, Gov. Tom Corbett’s energy executive and deputy chief of staff, said that while the above is specific to former DCNR Secretary Richard Allan, the accusation reflects on the Corbett administration as a whole. And, Henderson said, the accusation is false.

“One of the things that I take personally and we do here take personally and with great pride is our accessibility,” said Henderson, “and when folks who have made zero effort to actually engage the administration are called upon and then opine on who has access and who doesn’t, I think it’s beyond disingenuous.”

PennFuture wouldn’t comment further, saying only that they stand by the original statement that aired. Henderson maintained that is not the full story.

“Specific to PennFuture, we’ve reached out to them," he said. "I’ve reached out to them personally many, many times. Despite that, they have been, in my view, an extreme partisan critic of the governor and the administration, and that’s fine, that’s their right, but they have not been an organization that has sought to constructively participate.”

Henderson said he regularly meets with environmental groups including the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Nature Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and others. He acknowledged that they don’t often see eye-to-eye, but he’s OK with that.

“Criticize the governor, criticize the policies, that’s all fine,” Henderson said. “Do not criticize that you have not had an opportunity to make your case, because that’s not accurate. It’s not a fair representation. We take our responsibilities to be open and accessible very seriously.”

Henderson said state officials have also reached out to the Sierra Club, who previously had not agreed to meet with them. As for the groups not being on former secretary Allan’s calendar, Henderson said that doesn’t mean meetings don’t take place. He said many take place on the go at the capitol or are pop-in office visits.

He also said one group (meaning the oil and gas industry) just had a stronger record of scheduling meetings in advance, which meant they were placed on a calendar. And he added that the calendar is meant only to keep track of schedules, not to act as a record of meetings.