Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Corbett appoints a supreme decider

Who is overseeing DEP... or other state agencies tasked with protecting Pennsylvania's interests?

On January 18th along with being sworn-in as governor, Tom Corbett also found the time between speeches and his $3.5 million in inaugural festivities, to nominate Michael Krancer to head the state Department of Environmental Protection. This is a pretty significant appointment seeing as this Krancer is tasked with overseeing the health of Pennsylvania's environment to include its water, air and energy. It is especially important given the mounting role Marcellus Shale drilling is playing in all three of these areas.

But Corbett must not think Krancer is up to the challenge and must not have much confidence in the other people he nominated to head state agencies, because tucked away in his budget proposal is a provision for the Department of Community and Economic Development chief, C. Alan Walker, to be able to "expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where creation of jobs may be impacted."

Some environmental groups have expressed their concern because of the power the clause gives Walker over energy permits. I echo their concerns, but not merely for the enormous red flags it raises in regards to possible conflicts of interest (Walker is owner or has financial interests in 13 companies, many related to energy production; and is a longtime Corbett campaign contributor, $184K in the past 7 years).

No, I'm more concerned that this clause cedes unprecedented power to one man over many, many state agencies, with many, many missions. Some of which Secretary Walker may have no familiarity with.

Here's a quick look at a few of the state agencies tasked with doing some kind of permit issuing, which under the loose definitions adopted by the administration could relate to job creation:
  • Department of Labor and Industry
  • Department of General Services
  • Department of Transportation
  • Department of Public Welfare
  • Department of Health

Just these 5 agencies equal nearly $12 billion of the state's total proposed $27.3 billion spending. Obviously these agencies are responsible for much more than strictly granting permits, but why tie their leaders’ hands at all?

And why should the secretary of DCED have so much say in permitting issues, aren’t those tasked with overseeing those agencies capable and better able to determine the merits of permit seekers in their given field, even if it relates to some type of job creation?

Regardless of who holds the position of DCED secretary, this kind of unparalleled control makes little sense. Michael Krancer was selected to head DEP, because he has the credentials to run that agency, ceding any of those responsibilities to another cabinet secretary is not only unheard of but disconcerting to many environmental advocates and should be to the public as well.