AG Shapiro: Investigate the DEP
Dear Attorney General Shapiro,
We are writing to you to request that your office conduct an investigation of the Department of Environmental Protection’s handling of citizen complaints related to unconventional gas drilling in the Commonwealth. Findings of a three-year investigation by a team of investigative journalists at Public Herald reveal an agency that is not up to the task of protecting Pennsylvanians from fracking. The authors further allege that the agency committed misconduct at a system-wide scale.
Getting tough on frackers was part of your campaign platform. Your six-point plan included increased coordination between your office and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). You also promised to bring impact litigation against frackers where there is evidence that they have undermined Pennsylvanians’ right to clean air and pure water. We encourage you to extend your protection of our rights to include taking action against the regulators when increased coordination doesn’t suffice.
Public Herald’s research adds significant weight to claims of regulatory neglect. Investigators fought with DEP for three years to obtain information on fracking-related complaints. What they uncovered is jarring. DEP has received over 9,400 complaints related to gas and oil impact. Within this data, the Public Herald, a nonprofit investigative news source, alleges to have identified at least 177 water contamination investigations wherein DEP committed one or more of three types of official misconduct: malfeasance, misfeasance, and negligence.
In 2014, Auditor General Eugene De Pasquale issued a scathing report on the DEP after his office looked at several of the agency’s internal processes, calling it “woefully unprepared” to deal with fracking. We believe that his report only scratched the surface of the issues resulting from the agency’s handling of fracking--issues that have continued under the Wolf administration, despite promises to make a clean break from the preceding Corbett DEP.
We believe that your office has a responsibility to investigate this potential criminal activity. The Office of Attorney General has authority to investigate state officials or employees for criminal conduct affecting the performance of their public duties. DEP’s activities not only deprived the public of critical services and information that would illuminate the dangers posed by past, present, and future fracking; these actions were potentially criminal.
We have known for some time that fracking is devastating Pennsylvania’s communities and natural resources. Representatives from more than 60 countries and states have visited our state to witness the devastation firsthand. Decision-makers have moved to protect their constituents by acting to ban or impose moratoria on fracking in New York, Maryland, and elsewhere. The Public Herald report, which took three years to research due to roadblocks created by DEP, suggests that even stronger evidence for a halt to fracking has been swept under the rug. We may only understand a fraction of the damage done by fracking.
We appreciate your dedication to enforcing the protections provided in Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, otherwise known as our Environmental Rights Amendment. We encourage you to act quickly to investigate the potential crimes committed by DEP that resulted in the violation of Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights.