PA DEP Sec. Michael Krancer Responds to Critics, The Gloves Come Off

Micheal KrancerNow that Michael Krancer has received official confirmation from the Pennsylvania Senate to be the Secretary of PA’s Department of Environmental Protection, he is talking freely with the press and he has plenty to say.

Krancer said the following about his recent “voluntary request” to drillers to stop sending fracking fluid to municipal treatment plants that are not equipped to handle it:

Krancer pointed to his announcement April 19 calling on the gas industry to stop sending toxic wastewater to 15 treatment plants unequipped to purify it. The Rendell administration had allowed the practice.

Activists ridiculed Krancer’s move because it is voluntary. But Krancer says he is sure that shale drillers will halt discharges by his May 19 deadline or face public shame.

He said that if he had issued a formal order to halt the practice, treatment-plant operators could have challenged the directive in court. A judicial review could have taken years to complete, he said.

"My thought was it would be quicker, and would get us to the result we wanted to get to immediately, without litigation, without the time that that takes, the fight that that takes, and an uncertain result," he said. "And it worked."

"It is not a ‘pretty, please’ request," Krancer said. "It is a call to do what is right. And most, in this case, all responsible companies will rise to that call.

"I’ve heard the criticisms that it should have been an order," he said. "But at the end of the day, I stand on the fact that it did work. And we will verify that it’s actually being done in the field."*

PennFuture and other anti-drilling organizations have been highly critical of the new DEP practice, put in place by Krancer, to have any drilling violation citations “run up the flagpole at HQ first” before local inspectors can issue a violation citation to a driller (see the MDN story about the policy change here). Krancer says his new policy has been misunderstood and that major enforcement actions have always been reviewed in Harrisburg first, even in the previous Rendell administration. Krancer says his motives are to ensure such citations will stand up if challenged in court, not to water down or prevent a citation from being made.

"There is no preapproval by me, by central office," he said. "That is simply a wrong story. I do believe it’s being used by some folks for some purposes. It’s just false."

Krancer said his aim was to improve the department’s process for issuing formal notices of violation, known in regulatory parlance as NOVs. Since DEP doubled its oil and gas inspection force over the last two years in response to the shale boom, the industry has complained about inconsistent enforcement.

"I want strong enforcement and consistency and defensible enforcement," he said.

Krancer said that during a decade of ruling on appeals of DEP enforcement actions, he often saw the government’s cases collapse under pressure from corporate lawyers.

"On many occasions I saw what appeared to be a decent case melt away because the inspector couldn’t really defend what he or she did," he said. "They need to be able to stand up and face down a professional litigator when they get into court."

Krancer said he was instructing inspectors to compile the inspection reports and violation notices more clearly, concisely, and logically. "I’ve been telling my inspectors, ‘Write your tickets better,’ " he said.*

*Philadelphia Inquirer (May 1, 2011) – DEP chief defends his agency on gas drillers