Not a good day for the DRBC
The House State Government Committee (HSGC) of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives held hearings on June 11 on the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). If there was any doubt at the beginning of the hearing, called to order by Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-12th) and opening with remarks by Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-111th), it became clear quickly this was not going to be a good day for the DRBC.
The ranking member, Mathew Branford (D-70th), seemed oblivious to the hearing that was taking place around him as he decided to confront the first witness, Wayne County Commissioner Joseph W. Adams. Following what could only be described as a series of patronizing questions directed at him, Adams expertly and professionally slammed the door on Branford, who never made the same mistake with the other witnesses.
The next witness was Betty Sutliff, whose testimony made every one of the committee members take notice of the plight of farming, property owner’s rights and the loss of vital revenues that natural gas exploration and development (NGED) would have brought over the last decade to Wayne County.
The sole witness for the minority was DRBC Executive Director Steve Tambini. Within seconds of starting to speak in what seemed to be a disorganized and frustrated tone, he delivered the best testimony for which any critic of the DRBC could have wished. The lack of detail, hesitancy to answer basic questions, and his insistence that he just listens to the commissioners was laughable, yet offered a sobering introspection regarding how this self-perpetuating and obsolete bureaucracy operates.
Chairman Metcalfe maintained firm control over the hearing and reminded the ranking member at this point to ask questions and to stick to the subject matter rather than deliver commentary.
The following witness was Tom Shepstone, whose factual, clear and concise testimony obliterated the DRBC, leaving no doubt in the room that it was past time to rein in this intrusive bureaucracy. He was followed by David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, whose testimony solidified the facts of NGED’s true environmental impact and the multi-billion dollar positive economic impact it has had across Pennsylvania.
The final witness called was UDRBC President Ned Lang, whose testimony on the abandoned designated Superfund site at Barryville, NY, blindsided the hearing, most especially the minority, who scrambled to read his submitted testimony in the briefing packets, which obviously had been ignored.
The disclosure to the HSGC of free flowing hazardous materials, with potentially catastrophic health effects to millions downstream, into the Delaware River for over a decade, was sobering. Chairman Metcalfe asked who knew about this, and Lang’s records showed that the NY Department of Environmental Conservation, the DRBC Commissioners (governors of NY, PA, NJ, DE and a representative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), former DRBC Executive Director Carol Collier and other key figures had been given the information over a period of at least six years. The committee was also made aware that this information was shared with the PA Department of Environmental Protection at a meeting in March earlier this year.
The hearing, which was live broadcasted on PCNTV, was then closed as the chairman thanked the witnesses.
[Ned Sader is managing director of the Upper Delaware River Basin Citizens (www.udrbc.org), a 501(c)(4) nonprofit corporation advocating for property rights issues for the Upper Delaware River Basin (NE Basin) of Pennsylvania and New York.]