Correction, posted March 10, 2013: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that a Department of Environmental Protection inspector had resigned from the agency to work for private industry. The DEP says the inspector still works for the agency.
Many of Pennsylvania's policymakers, regulators and enforcement workers have come from the oil and gas industry they oversee, or they leave state jobs for industry jobs, according to a recent report that questions the impacts of such a "revolving door" on public policy decisions.
A report titled "Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania" identified 45 current or former state officials who have links to the energy industry and gas drilling and fracking regulation, including 28 who have left to take industry jobs.
The 30-page report, released two weeks ago by the Public Accountability Initiative (public-accountability.org), a Buffalo, N.Y.-based nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization focused on corporate and government accountability, said that attrition from government jobs to positions in the regulated industry calls into question the commitment of those employees to enforce regulations on companies they could soon work for.
Enforcement could also be hurt, the report said, when industry executives move into regulatory positions in government.
According to the report, the last four governors, including Tom Corbett, have "strong ties to the natural gas industry," as do a number of administrators from previous governors' offices, and 20 DEP administrators and employees, Democrats and Republicans alike, including all five DEP secretaries since the department was created in 1995.
That group includes DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who was a judge on the state Environmental Hearing Board before his appointment as secretary. But prior to that, the report said, he was a general counsel at a utility, Exelon, that relies on natural gas, and once worked as a litigation partner at Blank Rome LLP, a law firm and lobbying group that represents natural gas interests and is an associate member of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
"The revolving door data in this report raises troubling questions about the incentives that may be guiding public officials' oversight of fracking in Pennsylvania, from governors to DEP secretaries to well inspectors." Robert Galbraith, a research analyst at Public Accountability Initiative, said in the report he authored.
A two-year gap needed?
The "revolving door" issue was also raised two weeks ago at the House Democratic Policy Committee hearing in Washington, Pa., where Judy Armstrong Stiles of Bradford County spoke about how incomplete reporting of water well test results by the DEP allowed her family to continue using contaminated water that damaged their health.
Also at that hearing, Craig Stevens, a resident of Silver Lake Township in Susquehanna County, told the policy committee that "the DEP looks like it's run by the industry," and "there should be a two-year moratorium on people from [the department] going to the industry."
Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, a government accountability advocate, said ex-government workers can be a significant resource for oil and gas drilling companies, and the public "should be vigilant about conflicts of interest that may arise from the transition of government administrators or lower-level employees to private companies they may have regulated."
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