We've all heard the tales of obstructionism that have surrounded the state Department of Environmental Protection. The agency's critics say DEP doesn't act as a proper conduit to expanding economy. Rather, it cuts business off at the knee.
That may be DEP's history. It may be its reputation.
But in a visit to the Sun-Gazette last week, DEP Acting Secretary John Hanger said that's not the DEP of today.
"We do not come to work to put people out of business," is the way he put it.
That's important to know as DEP becomes the revolving door of regulation through which the burgeoning natural gas industry must pass before Pennsylvania can fully realize the economic benefit of its fortunate windfall of natural gas deposits.
Hanger said DEP last year issued a record number of gas permits, including 48 in Lycoming County, and a total of 14 wells were drilled. This year already, six permits have been issued and the same number of wells drilled.
DEP has multiple obligations if the words Marcellus Shale are to become synonymous with economic windfall to companies, municipalities and landowners.
It must adequately determine the legitimacy of companies seeking permits for gas drilling. But it must not unnecessarily stand in the way.
It must make sure the rights of landowners are protected.
But it must not keep them from pursuing the windfall that might await them.
It must make sure to protect the environmental integrity of municipalities.
But the agency also must make sure those municipalities benefit from this rare opportunity at a fresh revenue stream, part of which is needed to preserve the infrastructure taxed by the drilling.
Hanger says DEP as it is currently constructed and philosophically operating can do all these things.
We'll take him at his word for now. And hope he's correct.