2011-05-26 / Local & State

New Policy Limits Pa. Environmental Notices

PITTSBURGH (AP) – A previously undisclosed state environmental department policy gives administrators sole power to approve environmental violation notices in cases involving other state or federal government agencies, a Pittsburgh newspaper reported.

The policy change is detailed in a March 2 internal Department of Environmental Protection memo covering environmental violations and enforcement actions that can involve state or federal prisons, parks and hospitals, and state universities or road building projects, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette said Sunday.

Under the new policy, department field inspectors, regional program directors and regional directors are barred from issuing any “notice of violation’’ to the government agencies without receiving prior approval from the deputy secretary of field operations in Harrisburg. The previous policy had encouraged field staff to avoid issuing a formal “notice of violation’’ to government agencies but allowed many such decisions to be made at the district level, the paper said.

Among the agencies covered by the directive are the state Department of Corrections, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the federal Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

The department came under fire after reports of a March 23 internal e-mail that directed field inspectors to take no enforcement actions against Marcellus Shale drilling operations until they were approved by top administrators in Harrisburg. The department eventually rescinded and disavowed the change.

Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of the environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, said the new policy would create an incomplete regulatory record of problems at state or federal facilities and would hamper the public’s ability to track violations and determine if legal action is needed.

“It’s very important to get all the information and a complete record of the actual compliance and violation history in a facility’s file,’’ Jarrett said. “The potential to pollute or contaminate our air or water is the same whether it’s a state agency or a private industry.’’

Department spokeswoman Katy Gresh, however, called the March 2 memo “ just updated guidance meant to ensure effective coordination among commonwealth and federal agencies, which benefits the citizens we all serve.’’ She said the charge that the policy would leave the record incomplete “is directly contradicted by the words in the (March 2) memo which instruct field staff to document everything.’’

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