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2017-05-12 / News

DEP receives public comment at listening session

By Spencer Myers

Williamsport, PAThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection hosted a public listening session at the Genetti to gather local citizens’ comments on environmental justice.

On the panel listening to the public were Marcus Kohl, director for the DEP North-central Regional Office, Carl Jones, director of DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice and Patrick McDonnell, DEP acting secretary.

The meeting was part of an ongoing series. In addition to Williamsport, McDonnell will visit Greene County, Pittsburgh, Erie, Harrisburg, Allentown, Lancaster, Chester and Philadelphia.

The feedback solicited from the listening sessions will be used to help the DEP better improve how public feedback is received and further engage communities with the decision-making process.

“The Office of Environmental Justice fulfills a critical role within DEP – ensuring that all Pennsylvanians, especially those who have historically been disenfranchised, are fully involved in the decisions that affect their environment,” said McDonnell. “Environmental justice embodies the principles that communities should not be disproportionally exposed to adverse environmental impacts. With these listening sessions, I want to hear how we can improve on our responsibility.”

Although the department’s strictest definition of environmental justice applies only to the disenfranchised and poor, the series of meetings endeavored to include “residents in communities that may not fit the traditional definition of an environmental justice area,” according to the DEP.

“We want to move beyond just the census tract boundaries and make sure we’re really considering the needs of people and the role of public participation,” said Jones. “We want to ensure that communities and regulated entities are connected and communicating.”

Attendees of the session each received three minutes to issue a comment or complaint with the DEP. Attendees also received an additional three minutes of time after everyone had a chance to speak. Altogether 12 citizens voiced their concerns.

One concern raised by multiple commenters is the expansion of the Pine Creek floodplain due to deforestation.

According to Harvey Katz, a retired research biologist, “when you cut down trees you cause damage by expanding the floodplains.”

“Land in the floodplain tend to be rated at lower prices. This brings in lower income families who then become subject to the flood impact. One thing we know is that since the natural gas industry moved into Lycoming County in about 2008 we’ve lost about 30,000 acres of forested lands. Most people would dismiss that but we know from scientific work... that when trees are cut down, the amount of water getting to a local stream can increase by up to 84 percent depending on how much of the green vegetation is removed,” Katz said. “As the increase in water gets to a local stream it then flows to the floodplains and with larger amounts of water getting to the stream, that means that the floodplains will expand in size in terms of geographical size as well as height of the water.

“As a result of that I am going to suspect that buildings that used to sat right on the edge of the floodplains will go underwater also. That will kick into effect two things: one is that homeowners will suffer home damage, and second is that (Federal Emergency Management Agency) will kick in because now the new homes will come under their jurisdiction and they’ll be assessed flood insurance cost,” he said.

Another concern raised more than once was the natural gas industry’s contribution to climate change. Barbara Jarmoska warned of the dangers of reducing the big picture down to individual cases.

“It is important to point out that reductionist thinking has in the past and continues to really be a challenge and get us into trouble. There is reductionism present at hearings with the gas companies. … the refusal to look at the global picture and at climate change that is certainly upon us is an enormous challenge.

“We put things in these tiny little boxes. We will permit this and then this. We’re not looking at the aggregate when it comes to deforestation, when it comes to air pollution. The DEP is not looking at that. You are looking at the emissions from a single compressor station and seeing if that is within your limits and I would propose that we need to change our way of thinking because we live in a time when the big picture is increasingly dangerous,” she said. .

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