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House of Representatives
Session of 2021 - 2022 Regular Session


Posted: October 28, 2021 01:52 PM
From: Representative Danielle Friel Otten
To: All House members
Subject: Concurrent Jurisdiction for Environmental Crimes for the Office of Attorney General (Former HB 2772)
In its 2020 report on the unconventional oil and gas industry, Pennsylvania’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury highlighted the misconduct of certain companies in relation to the drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The grand jury’s two-year investigation uncovered systematic failures by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to properly oversee the fracking industry or fulfill its responsibility to protect the residents of the Commonwealth from hazardous drilling-related activities.

Under the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, the Office of Attorney General (OAG) lacks original jurisdiction to investigate or prosecute environmental crimes. Currently, OAG can obtain jurisdiction over an environmental crime through a referral from either a district attorney or state agency with enforcement duties. Once referred, the OAG’s Environmental Crimes Section may investigate and prosecute violations of state environmental laws. Unfortunately, as the grand jury report noted, far too often, DEP has failed to refer criminal investigations involving drilling-related incidents to the OAG.

I believe that more should be done to hold companies accountable for criminal actions that harm our environment, pollute our air and water, and jeopardize our public health. Therefore, I am reintroducing legislation (formerly HB 2772) that would amend Section 205 of the Commonwealth Attorneys Act to provide the OAG with the authority to prosecute any criminal charge arising out of the enforcement provisions of an environmental law or regulation, regardless of whether it was investigated or referred by a Commonwealth agency.

As Attorney General Josh Shapiro stated in June 2020 upon the announcement of the grand jury’s findings, “Our government has a duty to set, and enforce, ground rules that protect public health and safety. We are the referees; we are here to prevent big corporations and the powerful industries from harming our communities or running over the rights of citizens.”

I hope you will join me in support of this important legislation.

Introduced as HB1466