A 30-day public comment period that falls during the holiday season and the lack of public hearings are among the concerns raised by 50 organizations fighting pipeline and infrastructure projects in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic in a November 13 letter to DEP Secretary John Quigley
The letter notes that the task force fails to achieve its own stated goal to “amplify and engage in meaningful public participation” by providing so little opportunity for public engagement, especially when the task force’s only working meeting to finalize the report occurs only four days after the comment period begins.
“Last Friday November the 13th, I faxed and e-mailed a letter signed by fifty area groups opposed to the proposed build-out of natural gas pipelines in Pennsylvania,” said Tim Spiese, Board Chairman, Lancaster Against Pipelines. “We contest the assumption that this build-out and the associated build-out of fracked wells and fracked gas extraction could somehow be made "acceptable" to the people of Pennsylvania and surrounding states impacted by this environmentally, fiscally and socially unjust proposal.
“Thirty days is not enough time to allow for public comment. The assertion that there was ample time for people to make comments at the end of the PITF meetings in Harrisburg assumes that most people could take time off from work and travel to the DEP office in Harrisburg to do so,” added Spiese. “Unfortunately this 30 day period starts prior to a very busy holiday season for many people. I repeat our request that ninety days be allowed for public comment as so much is at stake,”
"The PITF draft report contains over 50 references of the need to encourage public participation, communicate with the public, and engage the public effectively, etc. PITF even has a Public Participation workgroup, so it is a mystery why PITF won't hold public meetings,” said Dory Hippauf, Research Committee Chair for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition. “Then again, the PITF task force and its work groups do have 74 members with connections and interests to the natural gas industry.
“The lack of public notice is addressed more than once in the report’s recommendations. In one instance, the industry is encouraged to publish notices as a ‘good neighbor’ practice,” said Karen Feridun, Founder, Berks Gas Truth. “In another, the report recommends that DEP require of companies that they publish notices in sources other than the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
“My own search of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association’s public notice website shows that the DEP itself did not publish notices of the comment period in any newspapers. It’s rather telling,”
"It has been asserted that the public had full and fair access to the Task Force and yet when the public turned out to speak they were told they had a mere 2 minutes to comment because the committee wanted to end its meeting by 4,” explained Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. “We were also told that there were limited seats in the meeting room and so once the room was full the public would be kept out. When some members of the public showed up after the meeting had started it required a special negotiation to get them into the room.
“The public is most decidedly not welcome in this process. But we need to be heard and we will be heard because it is our taxpayer dollars being used to fund this process and it is our lives and environment that are being devastated by these pipelines."
"The Pipeline Task Force is yet another fossil in the bureaucracy of Pennsylvania's government," said Tara Zrinski, local coordinator for Food and Water Watch, Lehigh Valley. "The sign-on of these 50 groups represents the demands of taxpayers who are frustrated that their tax dollars pay to sustain the damaging infrastructure of Natural Gas and its subsequent extraction. We need a Clean Energy Task Force to guide Pennsylvania into a fossil free future!"A copy of the letter is available online.