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Environmental groups press DEP to rescind policy on reporting contamination

| Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012, 3:22 p.m.

Pennsylvania is risking the health and welfare of its residents by requiring extra administrative oversight before giving water contamination notices to citizens, 14 groups wrote in a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett they released on Tuesday.

The Department of Environmental Protection asked regional offices in September to alert senior officials in Harrisburg about any public notices of shale gas-related water contamination, according to the letter, which asked the governor to rescind the policy.

Officials from environmental and anti-drilling activist groups signed the letter warning that the policy would delay public protection from foul water and undermine the agency's credibility. DEP said it has not received a copy of the letter from the group, though reporters shared it with agency officials.

“When contamination is discovered, it is crucial that these notices be issued without delay and be based only on scientific information,” wrote Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney at New York-based Earthjustice, who authored the letter. “The additional bureaucratic procedure will add no credibility to the determination whether the residents' water is contaminated, but it will slow the delivery of essential information that should be transmitted as quickly as possible to protect the health of residents who use the water.”

The new notification for senior officials won't create any such delays, said Kevin Sunday, spokesman for the DEP in Harrisburg. Agency workers stay “in continuous communication” with homeowners throughout every investigation, providing water sample test results to homeowners as they come in, he said. That won't change.

“It is unreasonable to assert that DEP management should not be aware of these matters, and it would be bad management for them not to be,” Sunday wrote in an emailed response to the letter. “The results of our investigations inform our determinations and we stand firmly behind our decision to apprise senior management of what these determination letters contain.”

Officials who signed the letter represent groups that include the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter, Clean Water Action, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, Marcellus Outreach Butler and the Saltlick-based Mountain Watershed Association, among others.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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