Tom Corbett made coal industry exec Alan Walker, the head of Bradford Energy in Clearfield, his very first cabinet pick in early December. He tapped Walker as head of the Department of Community and Economic Development, but since Marcellus Shale has been so present in Pa debates lately we asked him directly what his role in natural gas development would be:
"I don't expect to have any [oversight]. I will have no function or anything to do with Marcellus Shale," he said in a December interview with the Post-Gazette.
Investigators at ProPublica are questioning that. Though Corbett hacked away a third of DCED's money in his budget Tuesday, PP noted that the governor tucked away significant regulatory powers for Walker in the document:
Walker was Corbett’s first appointee—he chose him to lead the Department of Community and Economic Development in December, before taking office. Now, as Corbett stakes much of the state’s economy on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a paragraph tucked into the 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” That includes, presumably, coal, oil, gas and trucking.
It’s not clear how Corbett can delegate such sweeping authority to the economic development office, which would be reorganized to focus on coordinating with corporate interests and creating job growth. It also isn’t clear how the state would address the legal conflicts that could arise if, for example, Walker pushed for approval of a permit that conflicted with the Clean Water Act or other federal laws. The governor’s office did not respond to repeated requests to clarify Walker’s role, and other state agencies deferred to the governor.
Walker said this about the budget in a statement on the DCED website:
“The budget introduced today represents a completely new way of doing business for DCED and its economic development partners,” said acting Secretary C. Alan Walker. “The DCED of old was a maze of separate programs, challenging for businesses to navigate and costly for the state to administer. This proposal reduces the number of programs down from 127 to 56, funding only those programs most focused on real economic growth and return on investment.”
Since PP doesn't give a cite to the budget language in the story, we searched it and found the language on page 48. It's in the last sentence below: