DEP leader testifies at tense House budget hearing

March 7, 2012 12:00 am

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HARRISBURG -- There was no warm welcome for the state's top environmental official on Tuesday when he walked into his agency's budget hearing with House lawmakers.

The give-and-take was often combative during the nearly three hours that Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer fielded questions, defending the $10 million cut that the governor has proposed for his department as part of an effort to be more effective across state government.

He dismissed questions about the agency's ability to regulate gas drilling effectively amid those continued reductions, which have taken the agency's general operating budget share down to $127 million, compared to $217 million in 2008. Mr. Krancer pointed to the revenues from permit fees, as well as changes that make the department "more businesslike," as helping staffers to do more work with fewer state dollars.

He added that in the past year, well site inspections have been standardized across the state's regions and the number of oil and gas inspections doubled.

House Democrats on the panel sharply disagreed with some of his responses, repeatedly asking him about the strain on personnel. The secretary bristled at an assertion from state Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat from Delaware County, that morale is low at the DEP, that previous cuts resulted in furloughs and that his staffers say they need more resources.

Mr. Krancer retorted that the lawmaker was using anonymous sources to make his claim, which he called "a dissertation, not a question." The two men interrupted each other several times before Mr. Krancer continued, tersely responding that the cut-related furloughs were enacted before the Corbett administration took over in 2011.

"The furloughs you're looking at are from 2006 to 2010, so perhaps you would like to bring [former DEP secretaries John Hanger and Kathleen McGinty] back here and ask them about that," he said.

His agency will see more funding through the new shale drilling law, which will reserve about $6 million from this year's impact fee collections for the DEP. Mr. Krancer said afterward that he expects those dollars will go toward oil and gas drilling oversight, but he was unable to say specifically how those dollars would be used.

A breakdown of the number of drilled wells in each county, which will be used to determine how some of the impact fee dollars are distributed, is now available on the agency's website.

Mr. Krancer said the new drilling guidelines are "a big step forward," and that the measure included "some tweaks that need to be made."

He added that he was particularly pleased by the increased disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluid components, which drillers will be required to post on www.fracfocus.org.

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Laura Olson: lolson@post-gazette.com or 717-787-4254.
First Published 2012-03-06 23:13:16

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