Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pa.’s New Jobs Czar Fought Enviro Regs for Years

A version of this story was co-published with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
For years C. Alan Walker, a coal industry mogul and wealthy donor to Pennsylvania's Republican Party, clashed with environmental officials who tried to regulate his companies. He described them as "vindictive," "out of control" and "the most dangerous thing" affecting the country's welfare.

In 1981 Walker even argued that the state should let someone from industry influence how environmental regulations were enforced.

Now, some 30 years later, Walker himself has been given exactly that role by the state's new Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who has accepted nearly $184,000 in political donations from Walker since 2004.
In January Corbett appointed Walker acting secretary for the state's Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED). In March he gave him authority to expedite and influence permits at any state agency, including the Department of Environmental Protection, which regulates drilling in the Marcellus Shale, one of the nation's most important natural gas fields. Walker was also appointed to the state's Marcellus Shale Commission, a multi-stakeholder group that will advise the state in developing the shale. The goal, Corbett has said, is to "make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom" and "create jobs, not votes."

A spokesman for Corbett said that Walker's role is not unprecedented and that his influence will be tightly focused on promoting job growth while preserving environmental enforcement.
Walker's assignment has raised questions about how a businessman whose coal companies were cited numerous times for polluting streams and drinking water -- and who then fought the state's orders to clean them up -- will work with DEP officials who are tasked with carrying out environmental laws.
Walker recently assured state legislators that he will not issue permits or override environmental decisions. "I'm merely here as an expediter to make sure that permits get the proper attention," he said.
He has also defended his coal companies' environmental record. "As long as I have run those companies, not one gallon of polluted water went into a Commonwealth stream—period," he is quoted as saying in the March 24 edition of the Patriot News, a newspaper in central Pennsylvania. "I wouldn't want to live in the state of Pennsylvania if it had."
However, a review of court documents, state records, and of Walker's own statements since the late 1970s revealed at least 15 cases in which Walker's businesses polluted the state's waterways.
State records show that in the 1980s and 1990s Walker's companies were ordered to treat wastewater that was contaminating residential drinking water wells and nearby streams. In Rush Township mines drained into streams, polluting the municipal water supply for the nearby town of Houtzdale, as well as Mountain Branch, a stocked trout stream.
In an email, a DCED spokesman told ProPublica that mining is a dirty business and that Walker had met his legal responsibilities.
In 2003, Walker told the DEP that his companies, which were winding down operations, could no longer afford to treat wastewater. After he threatened to stop treating the waste sites, he reached a summary settlement with the state: He and his insurance companies contributed to a $7.2 million cleanup trust, and the state released him from his treatment responsibilities. The settlement, which he signed on Oct. 2, 2003, included a statement describing the harm his companies had done to water resources over the years. Walker said recently that he never intended to stop treating the wastewater, and that his stance at the time was merely a negotiating tactic.


No comments:

Post a Comment