Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Op-Ed: Protect Public From Environmental Hazards Of Drilling, Adopt DEP Regulations

[Note: The following Op-Ed appeared in the Allentown Morning Call May 11.]
Once again, the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians are being used as a political pawn.
Over the last five years, the Department of Environmental Protection has worked with environmental groups, gas and oil industry leaders, and Pennsylvanians from across the commonwealth to develop much needed updates to our oil and gas drilling regulations.
But many lawmakers in Harrisburg are determined to stymie the implementation of these much-needed regulations, seemingly at the bidding of the oil and gas industry.
Citizens across the Commonwealth should be outraged. How we regulate the oil and gas industry as we seek to protect public health and the environment is an issue that concerns us all.
On April 21, I had the opportunity on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania to address our state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission and encourage it to approve proposed updates to our oil and gas rules under Pa. Code Chapter 78 and 78a.
After a day-long meeting, the commission approved the proposed rules by a vote of 3-2.
Less than a week later, however, the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee passed a resolution to kill the rulemaking proposal.
Luckily, advocates, including the League of Women Voters, worked hard to stop this resolution moving forward and were able to prevent a floor vote in the House, at least for the moment.
But this is far from over. The Senate is expected to consider a bill that would have a similar effect, and the results are far from certain.
While reasonable people can disagree about some of the particulars of the regulations, there can be no doubt that the new regulations in their entirety are necessary updates to the previous regulatory scheme.
As our understanding of the public health risks of fossil fuel development grows and changes, so too must the regulations that are put in place to protect us.
Consequently, one can only see political calculations in the machinations of legislators in Harrisburg around these rules.
The League of Women Voters firmly believes that, while gas and oil production is a part of our economy, we must enact policies that support the maximum protection of public health and the environment.
Through our Straight Scoop on Shale project, we host the annual Shale & Public Health Conference. We also issue annual updates to our Shale Gas Extraction and Public Health Resource Guide.
At the league's annual Shale & Public Health Conference last November, we heard from a series of speakers, including researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and Johns Hopkins University, on the harmful impacts of drilling that encroaches ever closer to our schools and homes.
Research from Evelyn Talbott of the University of Pittsburgh has found an increased number of low birth-weight babies in drilling regions, and this inauspicious start to life does not make for better outcomes later.
Similarly, studies being led by Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins, utilizing data from the Geisinger Health System, has found an increased risk of premature births and high-risk pregnancies in women exposed to active, unconventional natural gas development.
Clearly, there is a very real risk in failing to protect the health and safety of all Pennsylvanians through effective regulation.
The citizens of the Commonwealth need to realize that how we move forward on these regulations is a bellwether for how the oil and gas industry will operate in Pennsylvania.
We must balance the need to protect jobs with the need to protect our water, air and land.
No Pennsylvanian will be immune from the consequences of failing to effectively regulate our oil and gas industry.
Lawmakers must stop playing politics with the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians.
The League of Women Voters calls on legislators across Pennsylvania to resist attempts to block the proposed oil and gas updates under Pa. Code Chapter 78 and 78a.
The health and well-being of our children, families and communities are at stake. We need our leaders to be responsive to the needs of their constituents — and we, the people, need to see to it that our voices are loud and clear.
At the end of the day, the power to effect change is ours.
For more information, visit the League of Women Voters of PA Marcellus Shale webpage.
Suzanne Almeida, Executive Director, League Of Women Voters Of PA, can be contacted by sending email to:

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