In Rebuttal: Bogus Pollution Report

PennEnvironment paints a false picture of water quality

Pittsburgh Post Gazette
5 April 2012
By Mike Krancer

With its recent so-called "report" called "Wasting Our Waterways," PennEnvironment once again proves that it is neither principled, credible nor a legitimate partner for dialogue on the environment.

The Post-Gazette carried a story detailing this report that claimed widespread pollution throughout the nation's rivers, citing the Ohio and Allegheny as examples ("Region's Rivers Are Some of Nation's Most Polluted," March 23). The Post-Gazette carried an online link to the report and then ran an uncritical editorial ("Toxic Status Quo: There's a Long Way to Go in Cleaning Up Waterways," March 26).

But the report is a fraud, starting with the cover.

The study's cover showed a drainage pipe releasing filthy water into a river. We immediately investigated the location of this photograph since, if accurate, it would be evidence of a serious environmental violation. In fact, the photograph is a purchased stock image of a discharge pipe flowing wastewater into a water purification station in South Africa.

PennEnvironment has withdrawn the photo, but this is the second time it has posted a fraudulent photograph as part of its propaganda efforts.

During last September's flooding, the organization posted a photo of a purported flooded drilling rig, suggesting it was taken during the flooding somewhere in the Marcellus Shale drilling area of Pennsylvania. But it turned out to have been a photo of a water-based drilling rig in Pakistan.

Pennsylvania has 67 counties -- neither Pakistan nor South Africa is among them. PennEnvironment's track record is so bad it has embarrassed other environmental groups and succeeded in marginalizing itself even within the community of non-government organizations.

Facts ought to matter, but they never have to Penn Environment or its nationwide affiliates. The false cover photo is not all.

What came after the fraudulent cover was a litany of statistics on the raw tonnage of chemicals released into rivers. These numbers come from the Environmental Protection Agency's Toxic Release Inventory for 2010, which is prepared as required by federal law. The report makes these discharges seem nefarious, but they are legal and permitted discharges under both federal and state law.

Also, the report downplays the fact that our environmental regulations have improved the quality of our waterways dramatically over the past few generations -- work that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is continuing. The EPA's own fact sheet on the Toxic Release Inventory shows a decline in levels of discharges since 2002.

PennEnvironment fails to even mention calculations based on the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators program. The RSEI is a computer-based screening tool developed by the EPA that uses TSI data to analyze the risk of discharges causing or worsening chronic health problems. The national RSEI score dropped by 43 percent from 2001 to 2007, the most recent data available.

Closer to home, as most Western Pennsylvanians know, the Bassmaster Classic fishing tournament was hosted just a few years ago at The Point in Downtown Pittsburgh where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers form the Ohio. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has noted that much of the Allegheny River exhibits good water quality and that for many years public and private efforts have been improving it. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, which really does know something about the Ohio River, reports that since 1948 it and its member states have cooperated to improve water quality in the Ohio River Basin.

It is time that news outlets like the Post-Gazette do some investigative homework before uncritically publishing details from a group intent on stoking public hysteria with fiction.

Mike Krancer is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (