Inspectors Angry with WV DEP Over New Marcellus Hires

Twenty inspectors with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have filed grievances alleging that the DEP is creating a two-tiered (and unfair) system for pay, job qualifications and job requirements in the DEP’s push to hire new inspectors for Marcellus Shale drilling. The inspectors are members of the West Virginia Public Workers Union. The union is lobbying to correct the situation.

The push to hire new inspectors for West Virginia’s Marcellus shale natural gas reserve has prompted an outcry among veteran regulators, with 20 Department of Environmental Protection inspectors filing grievances this month.

More inspectors may join the mass filings, which allege that the department has wrongly created two sets of pay, hiring qualifications and job requirements, said Gordon Simmons of the West Virginia Public Workers Union, which advocates for the inspectors.

"It’s not only a disparity in starting pay, it’s also education," Simmons said Tuesday.

Responding to increased interest in the state’s share of the rich Marcellus reserve, DEP is offering starting salaries of $35,000 to attract new oil and gas inspectors. Simmons said the existing environmental inspectors began at a lower salary, and also received lower pay during a probationary training period. That’s not required of the new inspectors, and nor is any educational background, Simmons said. Current inspectors need four-year college degrees in relevant fields.

Simmons also cited the freeze of merit raises during the tenure of former Gov. Joe Manchin. That contributed to a vacancy rate among the environmental inspector posts that now exceeds 10 percent, increasing the workloads of that staff, he said.

The inspectors who have filed inspect such areas as coal mines and water and waste systems, Simmons said. They allege additional disparities, including that they are required to live in an assigned location and travel a multi-county territory while the new inspectors are not.

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco declined comment Tuesday, citing department policy regarding personnel issues.

The inspectors are seeking a single hearing for all of the grievances.*

*Marietta (OH) Times/AP (May 16, 2012) – W.Va. environmental inspectors file mass grievance