Off come the gloves
John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, has not exactly been the darling of the burgeoning grass-roots resistance to gas drilling in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale. Among the things not helping his cred with activists: his presiding over the establishment in just two years of thousands of new wells statewide, his personal belief (if you ask him) that Marcellus Shale gas is a crucial part of America's energy future, and his less-than-glamorous cameo in the documentary Gasland (in which, when presented with a jug of water contaminated from drilling in Dimock, Pa., he abruptly walked off-camera).
Still, even his fiercest critics might want to reconsider the guy. Over the last year, Hanger has ushered through a series of new regulations aimed at curtailing possible impacts of drilling. He's beefed up the number of inspectors who oversee drilling. He's demanded that Cabot Oil & Gas, which he says is responsible for Dimock's contaminated water, pay to pipe in clean water.
Now, in the wake of Gov.-elect Tom Corbett's victory, he's come out swinging.
Last week, Hanger publicly challenged Corbett, whose campaign received more than $1 million in funding from the gas industry, to promise that the DEP would remain an independent watchdog under his leadership. Corbett had previously declared that he would "direct the [DEP] to serve as a partner" with the industry. Corbett responded by calling Hanger "a sore loser."
A call to Hanger's office on Friday was returned (almost instantaneously) by the secretary himself, more than ready to share his latest concerns over the incoming governor.
"Hopefully, the governor would come forward and say, 'Of course DEP will be an independent watchdog,'" he told CP. "But he still hasn't done that."
What's more, Hanger says he's disturbed by the governor-elect's declaration, within hours of an executive order by Rendell banning further leasing of state forest for drilling, that he would reverse it.
"He never bothered to look at the professional data, never bothered to consult [state forest tsar] Secretary [John] Quigley ... He just said, 'I'm gonna reverse it, regardless of what the scientific data shows.'"
And then there's Corbett's stark opposition to taxing the industry: "He will be the only governor in the United States to oppose a drilling tax — Gov. Palin didn't ... in fact she raised it; [Texas] Gov. Perry doesn't oppose a tax; [Louisiana] Gov. Jindal doesn't oppose a tax. ... [Corbett] stands alone."
Hanger, almost certainly on his way out, isn't pulling punches. Indeed, not 10 minutes after getting off the phone, Hanger called back. "A majority of House Republicans voted for a moratorium on further leasing of state forests," he told CP's answering machine. "That's another indication of how frankly extreme the governor-elect's position is."
It all began with a number: four.
In the wake of a disconcerting pistol-whipping and robbery outside of SugarHouse Casino — following close on the heels of an incident in which a casino patron was followed home and also pistol-whipped — the Inquirer took a hard look at security in and around the facility, in an article titled "Robbery in SugarHouse Lot Defeated Tight Security."
As the headline might suggest, the Inquirer found the casino to have substantial security: "SugarHouse Casino might be one of the most thoroughly policed areas in the city," the daily wrote, noting that more than 500 cameras keep an eye on the casino, as well as many security officers, local police, state troopers and gaming officials.
And then there was that number: since opening on Sept. 23, wrote the Inky, there have been four reported crimes at the facility: not, one might argue, so bad.
But CP found otherwise. According to data provided by the Police Department, police have recorded 22 crimes — not four — at SugarHouse from opening day to Nov. 14. That includes three reports of theft from cars, two reports of theft that occurred elsewhere, one report of fraudulent conversion, three reports of private-property vandalism, two DUIs, four reports of disorderly conduct and six reports of trespassing.
The Inquirer, to CP's knowledge, has not explained or clarified how it came to its (significantly) lower number. But in the meantime, CP has come across an even larger figure: New Police Department statistics obtained by CP show that cops have been called to SugarHouse a total of 203 times since Sept. 23 — sometimes, no doubt, to no purpose, but ... that's a lot of man-hours, no?
Is the casino itself, as some economists and casino opponents argue, attracting more crime? The data is just starting to come in — except when it isn't.
The smell at 924 Cherry St. began the Wednesday before last, and in the ensuing days, it got worse. Jazmin Idakaar, a research associate at Design Science — a consulting firm on the building's fifth floor — described the odor the following Monday as being "like a really horrific chemical." Others compared the scent to rubber cement, paint thinner and Magic Marker.
It was most pungent, mysteriously, in the elevator shaft, which research associate Joshua Evans described as being like "a trap." Some employees left the office to work at home. Those who stayed bundled up and opened every window possible.
Meanwhile, they took action, repeatedly calling the city's Water Department (PWD), which, just days before the stench appeared, had posted a notice on the building's door alerting occupants that a "trenchless method of sewer rehabilitation" was under way and that they could expect "a glue-like odor." According to PWD, similar work is being done on three other nearby streets through February.
A quick Internet search by CP revealed an occurrence in Alexandria, Va., where, as The Washington Post reported in 2004, an apparently similar (and, the article notes, less-expensive) method of sewer repair might have resulted in an onslaught of complaints by nearby residents of "toxic fumes" that left some sick. The culprit? Styrene vapor, a common byproduct of "trenchless" sewer work.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), being exposed to enough styrene vapor can cause nausea, dizziness, fatigue and eye irritation, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) warns that exposure above certain limits would violate its safety guidelines.
So how much styrene were the workers of Design Science breathing? No one seems to know — not even PWD.
"As far as I know, we're not using dangerous levels of styrene," said PWD spokesman John DiGiulio, adding that PWD has received complaints only from Design Science employees.
Had PWD actually tested the Cherry Street building?
"We cannot confirm whether or not the building was tested," answered Laura Copeland, another PWD spokesperson the next day, adding, somewhat cryptically, "There is no reason for concern."