Natural Gas NOW
The following is an open letter I have sent to Steve Tambini, the new Executive Director of the DRBC, which is sitting on 3+ year old gas drilling regulations.
Dear Mr. Tambini;
We’ve not met but, after allowing a respectful period for you to get your feet on the ground as the new Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, I write to ask you now demonstrate the sort of leadership required for this agency to regain its footing. The last many years have been nothing short of disastrous as the agency turned ideological, drifted into rampant incompetency and compromised itself to such a degree it can no longer be trusted. Respect will not be regained by waiting on your ever-shifting political leadership to act on their own. It must come from you. There’s no one else.
I have worked with representatives of your agency since the 1970s and am also very familiar with your sister agency, the SRBC, where a majority of your commissioners also serve in precisely the same capacity as the majority of that one. The SRBC has risen to its challenges and performs the role for which the DRBC was also intended. I know well the argument about the DRBC having a special water quality mission, but that is only a convenient diversion intended to justify completely unwarranted intrusion into the business of the states as it relates to gas drilling. The SRBC, in fact, has arguably done far more more for water quality by focusing on real issues. It has not bended to the ideological campaigns of special interests to regulate activities that don’t begin to constitute the sort of threats represented by landfills next to the lower Delaware, for example.
The real difference between the DRBC and SRBC today is a matter of management philosophy, which went political at the DRBC under your predecessor. It wasn’t the commission members who started dressing up the Comprehensive Plan with the trendy quotes of environmentalists. It wasn’t the commission members who put the Delaware Riverkeeper on five of the seven DRBC committees and would have put it on still another if Maya van Rossum herself had not demurred. It wasn’t the commissioners who treated van Rossum as an esteemed ally even as her zealotry led her to disrupt its meetings and sue the agency. It wasn’t the commissioners who negotiated a grant from the William Penn Foundation, the funder of the Riverkeeper, with a record of opposing gas drilling at every turn, to guide the DRBC in developing gas drilling regulations.
No, it wasn’t the commissioners who did any of those things. They were done by your predecessor, who was conflicted on every level with her own relationship to the William Penn Foundation through the Pinchot Institute she chaired. She let public hearings get out of control at the outset of the debate, cozied up to anti-gas organizations at every opportunity and treated upstream landowners and economic interests as if they did not exist in a perfect display of ruling haughtiness. She had only humorless contempt for the economic part of the DRBC mission, which she deliberately ignored while obsessing on the loss of forest cover that has been steadily increasing for decades. She cheerfully played the delay game, her e-mails and comments after leaving the DRBC revealing where she stood all along – against any gas drilling anywhere in the basin.
That was the damage done by Carol Collier and it’s up to you to undo it. Don’t tell us you’re trapped by the commission’s failure to vote on regulations fully developed over three years ago. That happened due to the failure of Carol Collier’s leadership. She welcomed the delays—sought them in fact—as everything we’ve learned since demonstrates. She provided the cover for delay by working with the William Penn Foundation, funder of the opposition, to “study” matters ad nauseam, allowing states such as the Delaware the luxury of not voting. She enabled the nonfeasance of duty. You need to take the lead in setting the ship aright.
I have several suggestions for you in that regard:
- End all relationships with the William Penn Foundation. It is a funder of extreme advocacy and lawsuits against your agency. The DRBC cannot be taking money from such an entity and hope to preserve its credibility or objectivity.
- Remove the Delaware Riverkeeper from all committees while there is any lawsuit pending against the DRBC from that organization. The very idea that a group suing your agency and disrupting its meeting should enjoy representation on your committees is offensive. More than that, it’s unimaginable you would be engaging the Delaware Riverkeeper in discussions about policy in the middle of a lawsuit. You have been very careful about talking to landowners who have threatened to sue. Why are you not equally careful about dealing with the Riverkeeper? Perhaps you are and I’m simply unaware of it, but, if you really want to demonstrate prudence, ask the Riverkeeper to refrain from participating in any committee activity while there is lawsuit from them in effect.
- Start putting upper basin interests on your committees. There is virtually no representation from that quarter now and what little there is consists of environmental special interests.
- Start publicly recognizing the economic part of the DRBC mission, which was integral to its very establishment. It morphed into a redundant environmental agency under Collier’s management and the way to restore the balance is to simply start talking about the economic side of the equation.
- Consider holding DRBC meetings in the Easton area, which is reasonably accessible to not only downstream interests, but also upper basin residents and interests who simply cannot easily get to West Trenton.
- Publicly ask the members of the commission to act upon the draft gas drilling regulations by suggesting approaches to ending the impasse. Arrange a tour of the gas fields with a neutral party such as the SRBC to call attention to the necessity of acting.
- Consider conducting a symposium of state agencies on the subject of your gas drilling regulations to let each voice its concerns and hear from others as to how those concerns are, would be or might be addressed.
- If you must refer to “stakeholders” (a phony term often meant to empower ideologues and those without real definitive interests) then include businesses, property owners, economic development agencies and other non-environmental interests in the mix so the balance is not tilted toward preservation at all costs.
- Write some memorandums, give some speeches and generally talk up the need for a balanced approach, not only toward gas drilling, but the entire DRBC mission. That has been wholly missing for far too long, but in the days when I first worked with DRBC, it was central to everything the agency did and it provided for credibility with others across the board that completely evaporated under Collier.
- Pay attention to the upper basin and, by that, I don’t mean the Manhattan-based “Damascus Citizens,” the NRDC’s Catskill Mountainkeeper spinoff or other such entities. Go to Deposit or Hancock, for example, and hear from local officials desperate for economic development who understand there’s a need for both tourism and natural gas drilling. Talk to economic development groups in Broome, Delaware, Sullivan and Wayne Counties who are as committed to environmental protection as they are to business creation and expansion. Learn how natural gas development can preserve open space, contrary to every talking point of the opposition.
These aren’t measures that will ensure any particular result but will help provide some much needed perspective and assist in restoring the DRBC’s credibility. They are items within your control, as well. They do not demand any more from the commissioners than Carol Collier’s obstructionist tactics did. You can do it. You must. You need to lead.
Thomas J. Shepstone
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