On Christmas Day, a natural gas processing plant in southwest PA caught fire, and several sources said that anyone calling the DEP emergency line to report the incident got only a voicemail. DEP denied these claims.
DEP critics said the agency is ineffective in dealing with industry and communicating with the public. “They could have provided a much more detailed and transparent account about what happened, what the risks were, how people should be protecting themselves,” said Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project, a nonprofit that advocates for improved air quality in southwest Pennsylvania.
The Christmas Day explosion is just the latest example of a DEP’s permissive policy toward the natural gas industry. Now, Mehalik said, “The DEP, the governor’s office, the Department of Health have an opportunity to align our state’s priorities where they need to be.”
But with the inauguration of Josh Shapiro as the new Democratic governor, and new leadership at the DEP, advocates for tougher regulation of the oil and gas industry, and for an activist approach to countering climate change, hope that the state is poised to begin a new chapter.
We should be vocal and insist that Harrisburg take strong action to do what’s needed.