This blog chronicles and analyzes developments in the Upper Delaware Valley, with an emphasis on public affairs, politics and what people are doing to make this a better place. You can find news here as well as commentary - but don't expect neutrality. The award-winning editorial writer for The River Reporter from 2004 to 2012, I am an advocate for sustainability, self-sufficient economic growth vs. globalization and protecting the environment on which our health, prosperity and quality of life depend.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Water quality under threat from DRBC proposal?

Bernie Handler of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has alerted me to a potential problem developing at the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), related to an idea that he had heard proposed at the last regular DRBC meeting on September 12.

The proposal is to eliminate redundancies in DRBC and the individual states' regulation of water discharges in the Delaware River basin. As confirmed by Kenneth Najjar, Manager, Planning & Information Technology Branch of the DRBC, the idea is to shift control over the permitting process to the states, while maintaining as a minimum the standards and criteria for approval currently imposed by the DRBC.  The goal is to consolidate the stream of paperwork in one process. 

Of course, in addition to  paperwork there are issues regarding monitoring and other field work, enforcement and the like. The DRBC would continue to be involved with some or all of these, with the details to be worked out. Najjar said, in fact, that there was a meeting taking place on Thursday to work out just some of those details.

Najjar says it's possible that further information about this issue will be shared at the December 5 DRBC meeting. 

As Najjar pointed out on Thursday evening after the Upper Delaware Council meeting, the states are under tremendous pressure to make all their operations more efficient, and in that context it is no surprise to hear that regulations in the river basin are being targeted, as they do, no doubt, tend to get particularly complex because of the overlay between the interstate organization and the individual states.

The problem is, however, that when it comes to environmental regulators, the term "streamlining" can all too often be code for "making smooth the road for industry at the expense of the environment." We can certainly hope that that is not the case in the current instance--but in that regard it would be useful if all those, both general public and organizations, interested in protecting water quality in the Delaware River Basin, keep their eyes on the process and make sure that any increases in efficiency are not purchased at the expense of effectiveness.

It is of particular concern to make sure that enforcement of DRBC standards does not fall victim to the vicissitudes of political change. It is of no use to have a robust system of standards that will serve to protect river water quality if implementation falls into the hands of a state whose regulatory mechanism is under the sway of industry interests. Tom Corbett's Pennsylvania, bluntly, is a matter of concern; not that there aren't still many highly competent, high-integrity regulators there, but the system as a whole under the Corbett administration has in many ways been gamed to serve industry interests over the past couple of years.(See http://www.riverreporter.com/editorial/16/2011/09/27/interdisciplinary-and-cross-media-huh.)

In any case, this is most certainly an issue we should keep our eyes on.

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