Money, politics and pollution in fracking country and waste dumping

Money, politics and pollution in fracking country by Will Bunch, January 15, 2013, The Daily News
It turned out that the company’s owner, John Moran Jr., wasn’t just a major political donor who’d given more than $100,000 to Corbett’s gubernatorial campaign, but he also had gifted more than $2,400 for Corbett’s personal travel, including hosting the governor and his wife on a yacht off Rhode Island in July 2011. The trips weren’t revealed until last fall, in an amendment to an earlier Corbett ethics-disclosure form. Corbett and his aides have strongly denied that his friendship and his personal gifts from the head of Moran Industries had any impact on his policies, or on any actions by regulators in the Corbett administration. Indeed, the GOP governor has made reducing regulations on business a cornerstone of his policies, and he famously urged lawmakers in March 2011: “Let’s make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural-gas boom.”

Still, Sunbury residents and environmental activists are troubled by the appearances in a tangle of money, politics, friendship and environmental risk in a central Pennsylvania region that Hollywood now might call a “promised land” – pitting fracking jobs and profits against the faded dignity of a small, scenic Rust Belt town. “The broader issue is that during the period when Moran was traveling with the governor, his company had much to gain from favorable interpretation from the DEP of this facility,” said Mark Szybist, a Wilkes-Barre-based lawyer for the environmental group PennFuture who has been following the saga from the start.

‘A gift from God’

John Moran Jr., the head of logistics, warehousing and trucking company Moran Industries, is something of an evangelist for fracking, calling gas drilling in Pennsylvania “a gift from God” and traveling on a state-sponsored trade mission to Germany and France touting the Marcellus Shale. On Sept. 30, 2010, a vice president for Moran Industries, Jeffrey Stroehmann, wrote to John Hanger, outgoing DEP commissioner in the Democratic administration of then-Gov. Ed Rendell, that the accumulation of drill cuttings – solid waste created by fracking deep into the Marcellus Shale – was becoming a crisis for large gas companies. He urged that their proposed waste site – loading trucked-in waste onto trains in Sunbury for shipment to an Ohio dump – be allowed to operate without a state permit under a loophole exemption that Congress granted to railroads in 2008. Stroehmann estimated that a state permit for a waste-transfer-station site would take six to nine months to obtain, and he wrote: “A business opportunity has presented itself and we can solve environmental problems, traffic problems, create jobs and provide a long term all weather solution, but we cannot wait.”

But Hanger wrote back the next month to tell Moran Industries exactly that: Wait. He said that the firm needed to get a permit or submit much-more-detailed proof that it qualified for the rail exemption. In mid-January 2010, at a Sunbury City Council meeting, according to a local news account, Stroehmann assured residents that there was no plan to start trucking in waste. Then, suddenly, the trucks started coming on Jan. 18, 2011 – a state holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the day before the inauguration of Corbett and the arrival of his new team. Stroehmann, contacted by phone, declined to comment.

“We weren’t sure what was in the material they were dumping,” [Emphasis added]

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