The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 25, 2013

DEP: Don't ask? We won't tell

Agency mum on EPA's concerns until public demands answers

By Evamarie Socha
The Daily Item

WHITE DEER — The state Department of Environmental Protection never mentioned a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency letter critical of a proposed tire-derived fuel plant in Union County at a May 2 public meeting because, DEP says, no one asked about it.

That letter also never made it to the Public Library for Union County, as part of the complete set of duplicate materials requested by state Rep. Fred Keller regarding the White Deer Energy Project and to be made available for public inspection.

EPA’s April 29 letter to Muhammad Zaman, environmental program manager with the air quality program, was filed with other public comments at DEP’s Williamsport office, DEP spokesman Daniel Spadoni said.

A public file available for review, including comments, has been kept there since DEP first received the White Deer Energy Project application in 2012, he said.

“Our role in the public meeting was to explain the application review process and applicable regulations, which we did,” said Spadoni, who with Zaman attended that May 2 meeting that drew a crowd of 150 in Allenwood.

“The main purpose for the hearing was to receive comments from the public,” he said. “If someone had questions regarding the letter during the meeting, we would have responded. It’s important to note that this letter has been part of the public file since it was received.”

Keller and Union County commissioners asked DEP to make En-Tire Logistics’ and National Gypsum’s plans more accessible to Valley residents by having duplicate copies of all materials in the Lewisburg library, saving residents a trip to Williamsport.

However, what DEP sent to Lewisburg “as requested,” Spadoni said, was the plan approval application, two large manila folders of documents. Other documents, such as letters of comments like that from EPA, were kept in Williamsport.

“We wanted the documents they filed for the application,” Keller, R-85, said Wednesday. “Our request was specific. They may have kept the letter as part of the public comments. ... We asked them to send the same documents that would be up for review in Williamsport.”

Keller said he wouldn’t speak for DEP about why the comment letters, particularly the EPA letter, weren’t sent to Lewisburg.

Keller and Union County commissioners on Tuesday sent a letter to DEP Regional Director Marcus Kohl — who also attended the May 2 meeting — asking the agency to deny the air quality permit for the $48 million plant.

They cited nearly 20 issues EPA has with the application and the project, particularly higher than acceptable heating values, underestimates on emissions, no boiler malfunction plan and incorrect address of compliance assuredness.

An extended public review period ended July 5. This was a 45-day extension Valley officials and Keller sought after the May 2 meeting, when DEP said it would allow only 11 days for public comment.

“The governor’s office had talked to DEP, and they indicated they had nearly 200 public comments,” Keller said.

If something had been found that warranted a longer extension of the public comment period, “we would have asked,” Keller said.

Keller added that he believes Gov. Tom Corbett’s office isn’t aware of the EPA letter.

“They can’t be aware of every document that comes to every DEP office in the commonwealth,” he said.

Union County Commissioner John Showers said it was his opinion that “we were receiving everything of the public file, up to date. It certainly seems like (EPA’s letter) was a significant piece of correspondence that should have been shared with Rep. Keller, the commissioners and the public.”

Kohl acknowledged receipt Tuesday of the letter from Keller and Union County commissioners.

“Mr. Kohl has responded and thanked them for sending the letter,” Spadoni said, and told the officials their letter “will be considered in our review of all the comments received on the project to date.”

The officials’ letter also was sent to White Deer Township supervisors; Zaman; Acting DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo; state Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Loyalsock Township, and Corbett’s office.

The governor’s office acknowledged the letter’s receipt, Keller said.