Jesse White [D-146th] isn’t afraid of the Pennsylvania GOP. Quite the contrary. He regularly wrangles with state republicans and Corbett’s DEP. According to a recent press release from his office, “White Legislation Would Make DEP Boss An Independently Elected Position,” he believes this key post ought to be on par with our state Attorney General, accountable to the highest possible authority. In a democracy, that’s the voters.
White Wants YOU! (To Elect The Next DEP Chief)
At first, White just wanted answers.
His is a heavily drilled district, and while he’s not opposed to shale gas development, neither is he afraid to ask controversial questions, like, “Are we getting all the jobs we were promised from Marcellus Shale, or are we living in an industry ad blitz?” White’s editorial, Why Aren’t There More Marcellus Jobs For PA Workers?, was posted on Canon-McMillan.Patch.com.
Rep. White also wants to know what DEP found in air samples taken at Cornerstone Care Clinic in Washington County. A number of his constituents were suddenly sickened last spring when a toxic cloud enveloped the clinic, forcing it to close on more than one occasion. Don Hopey of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describes the scene of that particular ‘fraccident’ in Strong Odors Close Burgettstown Clinic, May 5, 2012.
“DEP’s response has been unacceptable,” Mr. White said. “My district just lost one of the only places we have to provide health care and someone needs to provide some answers. Where’s the accountability?” [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
White repeatedly requested the Cornerstone Care data, and when it became apparent DEP would never ‘cough it up’ the representative from Cecil was finally forced to file an “Open Records Request” under the Right To Know laws. He writes about this in White To DEP: Release The Data, Canon-McMillan.Patch.com, June 19, 2012.
Over the summer, White took his cheeky penchant for public advocacy another step further, issuing a press release to call for “collaborative effort on DEP air-quality study.” White is seeking greater transparency when it comes to the results of air-quality monitoring to study the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling in Washington County. How progressive is that?
“This is the perfect opportunity for the DEP and the Corbett Administration to show the people of Pennsylvania that they are committed to an honest, fact-based debate about the impact of Marcellus Shale on our communities,” White said. “Unfortunately, the DEP’s track record of secrecy and protecting unidentified interests over the health of Pennsylvania residents demonstrates that it simply cannot be trusted to provide the transparency this crucial issue demands. Right here in Washington County, the DEP demonstrated that it can simply hide anything it doesn’t like. So how can anyone possibly trust it to tell the whole truth about what it finds?”
Since taking office, White has made it clear that he will go to great lengths to “dialogue” with the industry, which has become increasingly hostile towards open forum debate. One evening, he dropped by an industry screening of the now infamous infomercial, Truthland. The following is White’s facebook post about the event:
“Near Cecil, PA · .. Just came from a screening of ‘Truthland’ in my district, sponsored by ‘Energy in Depth,’ because I always want to learn and hear differing viewpoints so I can make sure I’m making rational decisions based on my own experiences. While the ‘movie’ was nothing more than a condescending 34-minute infomercial produced by the energy industry, the really interesting part was the panel discussion afterwards. “Industry representatives told the 211 people in attendance the gas industry is going to start getting more aggressive in attacking people who don’t agree with them, and that because their facts are totally right, there can be no middle ground in the debate. So much for that ‘honest and fact-based’ discussion we always hear about but rarely see, huh? Maybe there was more truth revealed than I realized tonight…”
Perhaps the best example of White advocating for the people he represents, however, is when he joined his colleagues in the PA Democratic Caucus who filed legal brief challenging the constitutionality of the elimination of local zoning ordinances for oil and gas operations under Act 13, the Marcellus Shale law passed earlier this year. White had argued persuasively against the house bill in February, 2012.
White was also an outspoken critic of the South Newark Basin moratorium inserted into Corbett’s new budget at the eleventh hour. He wrote Selective Drilling Ban Exposes Hypocrisy in PA Energy Policy for Cannon-McMillan.Patch.com on July 4, 2012. You can hear his impassioned oration on the PA House Floor opposing the incredibly egregious provision, which would stand nevertheless, here.
Dem Say We Free Again
At this point, White would like to see that the individual in charge of protecting the Commonwealth’s environment, health, financial wellbeing and natural resources is a democratically elected, qualified individual, rather than a political appointee.
“On September 5, 2012, Rep. White, introduced two bills, H.B.s 2606 and 2607, which would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to change the Department of Environmental Protection’s appointed secretary position to a commissioner post elected by Pennsylvanians.
“White said the legislation would end the governor’s appointment of the position and put the role of a DEP commissioner closer in line with that of the state treasurer, attorney general or auditor general, and would create more transparency for a department that has been continually scrutinized for its clear political agenda under Gov. Tom Corbett and DEP Secretary Michael Krancer’s lead.”
The news was first picked up by Canon-McMillan.Patch in Legislation Would Make DEP Boss An Independently Elected Position. It earned him a fourth headline on the PAEnvironmentDigest website, along with the predictable scorn of Marcellus Drilling News, a distinction unto itself.
“Mr. White, anytime you increase government, it creates another layer of bureaucracy, which would increase expenses, and increase opportunity for fraud…..”
“Jesse, I think that is brilliant idea because maybe you will get someone in there that really knows science (such as geology or biology) and is not just a toadie of some politician whose palms were grease by the oil and gas industry.”
“Of course, you might just wind up with another politician whose campaign would be subject to contributions from gas and coal companies. Sorry Jesse. Krancer may be a dick, but this is not a good idea. Having the DEP secretary be *more* beholden to money is not what’s needed here.”
“I have done some more thinking and a person has to have certain qualifications for that job you just can’t vote someone into that position. You know how some people vote he talks nice, he looks good don’t care what he says but he smile when he says it he’s got my vote. Look how well that is working with our politicians.”
One gets the sense that House Bills 2606 and 2607 might be the ultimate long shots. Perhaps they’ll amount to little more than saber-rattling. Or maybe it’s simply White getting warmed up. The real battle will come in November, not on the Tuesday the 6th, but on the 15th, when DEP will finalize the proposed language of regulatory changes to Act 13 at a Technical Advisory Board meeting.
Read more: The Post-Gazette.com, DEP Proposes Stronger Rules For Regulating Shale Industry by Don Hopey.
White, via facebook, clues us in on what we can expect:
“Two thoughts on this. First, there is NO WAY the Corbett Administration will sign off on any sort of real strengthening of the rules, and even if they did, DEP will do what they’ve been doing all along- ignore what they don’t want to see and lie about what they’re doing. This is all about letting the people of PA think DEP is working for them, but they aren’t. Don’t be fooled.”