PA DEP Wants Reward for Doing Poorly!

cost of renewables - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW


PA DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell had the audacity to blame poor performances by some of its regional offices on lack of money even though it get $728 million.

PA DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell was as well spoken at his Senate Budget hearing as he was when the House Appropriations Committee interviewed him. He certainly has the right professional temperament for his job, but that didn’t make his answers any better when it came to DEP permitting delays. He blamed it on a lack of money, of course, and wants to be rewarded with more of it, despite horrific delays and disparities among his regional offices in issuing routine erosion and sedimentation permits.

Our good friend Jim Willis, over at Marcellus Drilling News (get a subscription), has a terrific piece on the hearing that needs to read to really understand what’s going on, including excerpts a pathetic analysis by the fractivist outlet StateImpactPA. Let me also suggest readers take the time to go to the PCNTV site and check out the first 20+ minutes of the Senate hearing. Committee chairs Senator Gene Yaw and John Yudichak, both pro-gas legislators from the Northeast, the former a Republican and the latter a Democrat, do an excellent job getting to the substance quickly.


Gene Yaw put everything in context with his first question. He said he got more complaints  on one DEP issue than any other: why it takes the Southwest Regional Office 200 ± days to issue erosion and sedimentation permits and 30-45 days elsewhere. McDonnell’s answer wasn’t good. He blamed it lack of money, lack of training and everything else he could think up other than poor performance by some of his staff.

It illustrates one of the problems with appointing a career guy like McDonnell (and some of his predecessors) to the leadership. He is unfailingly polite, he is professional and he views his first responsibility as defending his fellow employees rather than the interests of the people who pay them. It may be an admirable personal and professional trait but it isn’t what’s needed when you’ve got rogue departments performing badly.

An independent leader brought in from outside would have said such delays are inexcusable and heads would roll if the problem isn’t corrected. McDonnell could have also said he would reassign other staff to the region, reassign its work to others, change its leadership, bring in temporary help, abolish it, etc. He offered none of those things and never adequately answered Gene Yaw’s question; he only asked for more money.

This is not acceptable. I’ve worked with DEP folks for over 40 years. Some of them are top notch professionals like McDonnell and most are decent well-motivated public servants; others not so much. Many are engineers who couldn’t make it in the private sector. Others simply like the security offered by state jobs. Some are true-believers. Others are natural born bureaucrats. Most have civil service protection.

Even when legislators tell them precisely what they want, they are apt to undermine the law by using unwritten policy, procedure and interpretations to effectively change it. I’ve seen it myself on two different non-gas issues affecting the Northeast. They are, as a group, extraordinarily difficult to manage and depending on nice guys to do it is unlikely to produce any meaningful change. More manpower, training and IT capabilities aren’t going to fix a 200-day problem. That takes tough demanding leadership.

It’s also interesting that, after complaining about the lack of funding, the discussion turned (during Yudichak’s questioning) to the Growing Greener program which has been too often little more than a slush fund for passing out money to environmentalist activist groups who then turn around and attack DEP. Apparently, the budget is never so stressed there isn’t room for that. The worries over losing Federal money are also revealing. Perhaps, just perhaps, if DEP wasn’t so focused on kissing up to the Feds at every opportunity, something that started during Tom Ridge’s administration, we could do a better job dealing with erosion and sedimentation permits in Southwest PA.

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