DEP ‘listening session’ held in Waynesburg

DEP Director of Environmental Justice Carl Jones, Jr., left, discusses issues of Marcellus Shale drilling permits and complaint inspections of operation sites with Coalfield Justice Director Veronica Coptis and James Rosenberg of Fayette Marcellus Watch during the DEP’s first Environmental Justice listening session in Waynesburg Wednesday.

WAYNESBURG – The state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Environmental Justice held its first public “listening session” at Margaret Belle Miller Middle School Auditorium Wednesday in which dozens of people gave public testimony about abandoned mine runoff and the increasing number of Marcellus Shale wells, compressor stations and pipelines in the region.

OEJ Director Carl Jones explained his office was there “not to respond, but to receive” testimony from community residents that may not fit the traditional definition of an environmental justice area, which is based on minority populations and income levels.

Each person testifying, most of whom hailed from Greene, Washington, Fayette, Butler and Allegheny counties, were given three minutes to speak.

Center for Coalfield Justice Director Veronica Coptis addressed “trigger permits” which are permits applied for in designated environmental justice areas that can affect water and air and create waste. When trigger permits are applied for, the Environmental Justice Office is ‘triggered’ into holding public meetings.

“Shale gas permits and related infrastructure should be added to the trigger list. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen a significant rise in drilling and midstream operations. The cumulative impacts of all of these operations on communities’ health and environment must be considered by the DEP during permitting.”

Acid mine runoff was another big issue to those who reported seepages happening near houses, schools and roads. The DEP was commended for working with watersheds throughout the state to identify sites and do remediation.

But it was the rapid increase in the number of well pads and compression stations and the thousands of big trucks hauling water, fracking chemicals, sand and equipment on highways and secondary roads that got the most testimony.

“I’m surrounded by well pads,” Scenery Hill resident Art Bradley said. “I’m concerned about the methane, toxic chemicals and radiation that comes from fracking. We need good regulations for gas and oil.”

Patrice Tomcik of Gibsonia, a member of Moms Clean Air Force, a group representing more than 52,000 Pennsylvanians, echoed the sentiments of Coalfield Justice.

“Children are a vulnerable population because their bodies are still developing and toxic exposures can impact health,” she said. “DEP should add oil and gas permits to the trigger list. And we need to follow New Jersey’s lead and allow communities to file a petition to be recognized as vulnerable. Special locations should be considered vulnerable such as schools, child care facilities and hospitals.”

James Rosenberg of Fayette Marcellus Watch urged the OEJ to be more involved in drafting the language of general permits and make sure that “all municipalities receive adequate information to be able to evaluate local impact, including zoning.”

Public testimony will be accepted until May 25 and can be submitted online. To testify or view the list of all DEP EJ listening sessions, go online to www.ahs.dep.pa.gov.

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