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Corbett Nominees Grilled On Marcellus Oversight
December 5, 2013 - Ben Klein
(AP) — HARRISBURG - Two of Gov. Tom Corbett's nominees to head state environmental agencies were grilled Wednesday about oversight of Marcellus Shale drilling as they cleared a hurdle in their Senate confirmation process.
Dallas resident Ellen Ferretti, the acting secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, was asked by Democratic senators about the impact of a major shift in agency funding sources and the moratorium on additional leasing of state forest land for natural gas drilling.
Christopher Abruzzo of Hershey, acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, was asked about state monitoring of potential air and water pollution near gas wells and compressor stations and public notification about gas pipeline projects.
Ferretti and Abruzzo won a favorable recommendation vote from the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee for their nominations. The action sets the stage for a confirmation vote next week in the Senate. Both have been acting secretaries for their respective agencies since last spring.
Sen. Daylin Leach, D-King of Prussia, cast a lone "no" vote against Abruzzo's nomination. Leach said he was dissatisfied with Abruzzo's answers about state government's role in addressing climate change issues.
The panel chairman, Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, lauded Abruzzo as a "problem solver."
One of Ferretti's most involved exchanges with senators concerned the sizeable portion of DCNR operations now funded with gas royalties from drilling on state forest land. In recent years, transfers from the Oil and Gas Fund have replaced state tax revenue as a mainstay of DCNR's budget.
Leach suggested this arrangement poses a conflict of interest because the more gas royalty income, the better off DCNR's budget is.
Ferretti said she doesn't think a conflict exists because the fund transfer is approved annually by lawmakers as part of the state budget.
"We are thankful to have the funds," she said. "These are tough times."
Closer to home, Sen. John Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, asked about state assistance to help Luzerne County officials maintain county-owned Moon Lake Park during difficult fiscal times.
The park could be eligible for grants from DCNR's Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, Ferretti said. Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, told senators Ferretti has known both parks and forests and mine-scarred landscapes from living in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
"The contrast has made quite an impression on Ellen," she said.
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