As the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) conducts its quarterly business meeting today, a coalition of organizations strongly criticized the agency for prohibiting public comment at the event and continuing to issue water permits for the natural gas industry without taking measures to prevent negative impacts across the Basin.
In a March 9 letter to SRBC, the groups said that full public participation at all meetings is necessary for the Commission to receive valuable public and expert input, have current information to consider in its permit reviews, and, as a public agency, to maintain transparent decision-making. (The full text of the letter is available by clicking here).
The Commissioners represent Maryland, New York and Pennsylvania, as well as the federal government through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. But at a recent hearing on 40 water withdrawal permits to support the natural gas industry, only the Commission chair (from Pennsylvania) was present and comment was taken by a hearing officer.
This highlighted growing concern that SRBC is violating its mandate to operate on the basis of equal, joint involvement by all member states. SRBC continues to approve permits and will soon put in place weak regulations to promote shale gas development in Pennsylvania—even though the other two members, Maryland and New York, haven’t decided whether to even allow it to occur. And by not conducting any studies to determine the effects of the industry across the Basin over time, SRBC is ignoring its legal requirement for long-term planning. (These points are detailed in a document available here).
“As drilling explodes across the Basin, communities and the environment are being harmed. It’s no wonder that residents are speaking out, taking a closer look at the work of the SRBC, and turning out for meetings like never before,” says Nadia Steinzor, Marcellus regional organizer for Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “SRBC should face this new reality and do what it takes to support productive public participation and protect the water resources with which they’re entrusted.”
“The Commissioners should take the time to consider and respond to citizen comments. The public has invested time and expense in coming before the Commission to speak and the public should be heard,” said Thomas Au, conservation chair of Pennsylvania Sierra Club.
“The SRBC needs to stop the premature authorization of growth-inducing actions like the shale gas-related water withdrawals on March 15th’s docket,” said Guy Alsentzer, staff attorney for Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “The Commission must first take the initiative to study shale gas development’s impacts on water resources and water resources management on a Basin-wide scale and incorporate those findings into its decision-making. Only by doing so can it fulfill its Compact and regulatory duties to preserve water quantity and quality for present and future generations.”
“SRBC should stop rushing to judgment on these huge water withdrawal permit applications. These proposed withdrawals are not happening in isolation,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania State director for Clean Water Action. “SRBC needs to stop approving individual permits and conduct a study on the cumulative impact of full scale gas extraction on the entire Susquehanna watershed. These decisions affect residents in three states and should not be made without conducting real, science-based study.”
“The routine approval of water withdrawals for drilling and fracking in the Susquehanna River Watershed by the SRBC is resulting in water and air pollution and community degradation, and yet the SRBC is not addressing the outcomes from their decisions. They cannot bury their heads in the sand while the air and water of the Basin are polluted and people are getting sick,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper. “The SRBC should not approve the proposed water withdrawals and instead enact a moratorium while they address the damaging fallout from gas extraction and put in place a plan to protect and restore the Susquehanna River Watershed. The degradation from gas in the Susquehanna affects us all and it’s time to stop it.”
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