Public Herald Calls for Federal Criminal Investigation of Pennsylvania DEP & US EPA

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Investigative news nonprofit Public Herald and more than 50 organizations and individuals (including Green Party Candidate for President, Jill Stein) are calling for a federal criminal investigation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) “for failing to act on drinking water contamination related to shale hydrocarbon development, a.k.a. fracking, and placing public health at risk.”

An open letter and petition calling for the federal investigation has been published at Change.org and currently receiving signatures. The request cites evidence from a 30-month investigation by Public Herald which found “nine ways DEP systematically keeps water contamination cases ‘off the books.’” It’s slated to be sent to the United States House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, Special Agent Clay M. Brown of the US EPA Office of Investigations, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, and 12 additional federal and state offices.

Due to the lack of action and neglect by state and federal officials about the ‘rivers of evidence’ Public Herald released on the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection keeping complaints ‘off the books,’ we feel it is our duty as the fourth estate to act on behalf of the public interest and go on record to demand a federal criminal investigation of PA DEP and US EPA.

FULL PRESS RELEASE »

Public Herald’s investigation defines and corroborates other findings by Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, Harvard School of Law, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Center for Public Integrity.

As Bloomberg reported, investigative journalists Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic originally called for the federal intervention during testimony to the EPA Science Advisory Board panel on June 14th, in Washington D.C.

A press conference including several other letter signers will be held on Wednesday, June 29th, 12:00pm, Paramount Film Exchange Building, Public Herald, 544 Miltenberger St., Pittsburgh PA 15219.

You can add your support by signing our online petition at Change.org. Signatures will be delivered to federal and state investigation offices up to the release of Public Herald’s final series of reports, expected in November 2016.

The following testimony was submitted by Public Herald to the Science Advisory Board panel regarding the EPA’s Draft Assessment of “Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

A statement by Joshua B. Pribanic & Melissa Troutman on behalf of the public interest

My name is Melissa Troutman. I’m a journalist and the Executive Director of Public Herald, a nonprofit investigative news organization which has investigated fracking’s impacts on water in Pennsylvania since 2010. I’m here to request a federal investigation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for ignoring evidence that clearly shows contamination of drinking water related to the development of shale oil and gas that has impacted residents in Pennsylvania for years, subjecting them to illness and disease through exposure to toxins through their drinking water.

Five years of investigations by Public Herald have revealed that there is substantially more water contamination in Pennsylvania than EPA or PA DEP have acknowledged in favor of diluted and false conclusions about the potential impacts of unconventional oil and gas fracking. Any assessment about how widespread and systemic the impacts of fracking are on drinking water should start with the aggregation of water contamination complaint cases and include all water contamination clusters, not just the one in Dimock, PA. PA DEP gives the impression that they do aggregate cases by publishing a PDF online that lists all the cases DEP has confirmed. However, these are far from all the water contamination complaint cases that actually exist.

Federal Investigation of DEP/EPA

Since 2013, Public Herald has aggregated, mapped and published all water contamination complaints for 17 of 40 fracked counties in Pennsylvania. These data maps show where water pollution clusters have occurred, cases that specific officials at DEP have knowingly kept off the books. The number of contamination cases is far greater than the 278 that PA DEP has confirmed, and we’ve analyzed over 200 cases to find that PA DEP has nine ways that it systematically keeps water contamination cases obscured, leaving residents to deal with water problems one their own, such as complaint case #274235  in Delmary Township, Toiga County (9/3/2010).

Review a complete list of DEP complaint case examples from Public Herald’s September 2015 “Complaint Report

On the contrary, had the EPA reviewed the 2,309 cases obtained by our newsroom and released in September 2015, we’d be sitting here discussing how best to replace the field workers, administrative staff and supervisors of DEP who knowingly put the public in harm’s way by neglecting their duties and using politics instead of science to make decisions. The data in these complaint records clearly shows a trail and pattern of impacts to drinking water, but also a pattern of regulatory indifference, neglect, partiality, and bias to an industry. These records, when analyzed with the intent to protect the public health and environment, prove that DEP acted criminally. All of them are available at PublicFiles.org, mapped by county and township (please also review http://publicherald.org/complaint-report/).

That DEP allowed drinking water supplies to be contaminated with permits from their office, then when made aware of that contamination, allowed pollution, poisons, and toxic water to be kept “off the books” is no less criminal than the acts perpetrated by officials now facing criminal charges for the water crisis in Flint, MI.

For eight years DEP has knowingly suppressed, withheld, and covered up hundreds of water contamination cases in PA…that we know of. In this room sit industry officials who’ve happily sat back to watch families sign non-disclosure agreement after non-disclosure agreement, while DEP shrouds the public from the data. These companies are afforded some of the best economic protections in America, where they are allowed to contaminate aquifer after aquifer and still be granted new permits only months after these violations.

And this doesn’t mean EPA is off the hook. Just as in Flint, both state and federal agencies are wading in rivers of evidence without acting on it.

How many Dimock cases does the EPA think are in these 2,309 complaint records? And how many does there need to be for EPA to act in a manner where they declare the state regulatory agency incapable of performing its duties? How many cases need to be in these records for the federal government to open a criminal investigation of the PA DEP, or EPA?

All of you sitting here today may not know the answer to these questions. But, I can assure you our team at Public Herald knows the ceiling has been reached. I’m speaking to you today in the hopes that you’ll use this evidence to do what is right, and that you’ll move to opening a criminal investigation of PA DEP. If not now, then perhaps when our next headline is out and you witness the evidence aggregated in over 4,000 complaint cases that we are still collecting in Pennsylvania right now… perhaps then you will act. Maybe the data from 4,000 will finally be enough. But I hope it doesn’t take you that long, and I hope my time here is not in vain. More than anything, I hope that the corruption of public health and public trust will be vindicated by a federal investigation and a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee like there was for Flint, Michigan.

Thank you.

 

Respectfully,

Joshua B. Pribanic, Editor-in-Chief

Melissa Troutman, Executive Director

  • Jack Wolf

    I told you not to trust the EPA!
    “Earlier this month, NC WARN, an environmental group, presented the EPA Inspector General with evidence it said showed that key research on methane leaks was tainted, and that one of the EPA’s top scientific advisors fraudulently concealed evidence that a commonly-used tool for collecting data from oil and gas wells gives artificially low methane measurements.” http://www.desmogblog.com/2016/06/28/high-level-epa-adviser-accused-scientific-fraud-methane-leak-research

  • Trippin McZoink

    As a resident of a community in Washington County whose water supplier has reported carcinogenic trihalomethanes in excess of EPA limits for what I’m told has been seven years running, I am thrilled that the Pennsylvania DEP, which has done nothing but obfuscate on behalf of the fracking industry, may finally be required to account for their malfeasance.

    Thanks to you, the Harry Enstrom Chapter of the Izaak Walton League, Food & Water Watch, the Center for Coalfield Justice, and all those who are helping us to make slow but steady progress. Clearly the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania still places little value on lives in the fossil fuel sacrifice zone, as it has been for over a century. So all we’ve got to defend ourselves is us.