The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

July 25, 2013

Didn't ask, won't tell, not best policy

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection just became reason No. 2,761 that citizens are wary of what government is up to.

Days before the DEP attended a public meeting on controversial tire-derived fuel plant in Union County, the agency received a letter for the Environmental Protection Agency — the big brother in Washington — advising the state group of concerns it had with the proposal.

Among the concerns were the potential for underestimating emissions, higher than acceptable heating values, no boiler malfunction plan and compliance assuredness.

At the public meeting a few days later, information in the letter was never brought up. The reason? No one asked.

"Our role in the public meeting," DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni said, "was to explain the application review process and applicable regulations, which we did."

Basically the meeting, DEP is saying, was to talk about how and where the En-Tire plant's proposal would be available for public consumption. The proposal is certainly something more than a few people wanted to see, and getting word out where it would be was an important task for DEP.

But it was not the department's most important task, and therein lays the problem.

On its website, the DEP says it's "mission is to protect Pennsylvania's air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment."

There is little doubt DEP does the first part of that task very well, despite the views many passionate environmentalists who feel they aren't doing enough. The department has done study upon study on things like the health of the Susquehanna River, the air quality and more.

It would seem, however, that DEP dropped the ball on the second part of its mission statement.

If your job is to protect the health and safety of citizens, then the best way to do that is to get all the information out for everyone to see. The citizens you are protecting should not have to ask for all the information you have; you should tell them without having to be prompted.

Government works best when it is open and transparent. The letter was part of the public review documents in Williamsport. That's good. But the fact that in a public forum, the perfect opportunity for a necessary discussion to take place, the information was not willingly provided, is not.

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