The Fox Guarding the Henhouse

Our new environment czar: a coal CEO, natural gas investor

As if the budget wasn’t bad enough—slicing $2 billion out of basic and higher education funding, which is precisely the last thing this state needs to do to shake its reliance on the blue-collar jobs that aren’t coming back, while declining to impose the same tax on his natural-gas-drilling patrons that every other state imposes—check this out: Per ProPublica, Corbett wants to hand over control of environmental permitting to none other than C. Alan Walker, a big-time Corbett benefactor ($184k in donations) who owns Bradford Energy and Bradford Coal, and who also holds interests in a central Pennsylvania oil and gas company and a trucking company.

Walker was Corbett’s first appointee—he chose him to lead the Department of Community and Economic Development in December, before taking office. Now, as Corbett stakes much of the state’s economy on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a paragraph tucked into the 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” That includes, presumably, coal, oil, gas and trucking.

Walker’s ties to the energy industry are deep. He is listed on state disclosure forms as an executive of the Pennsylvania Coal Association and he has served as chairman of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. He also has firsthand experience with the state’s environmental regulations, because his companies would likely have applied for permits similar to those the oil and gas industry is now pursuing in the Marcellus. And like many energy companies, his, too, have run into problems with the state.

In 2002, three of Walker’s coal companies notified Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection that they had run out of money and were going to stop treating the 173 million gallons of polluted water they produced each year and released into tributaries of the Susquehanna River. The state eventually got a court injunction to force them to continue treating the wastewater as required by state and federal law. [Emphasis mine]

In other words, if Corbett gets his way, an energy exec (!) with an environmentally unfriendly track record (!!) will have unilateral authority to overrule environmental or health or whatever other goddamn regulations he deems necessary “where the creation of jobs may be impacted,” which is, you know, all the time. So, that fracking wastewater seeping into the drinking water supply? Who cares.

Fox, meet henhouse.

Congratulations, Pennsylvania: You are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Tom Corbett’s corporate pals.