New Director Seeks to Balance Economy, Environment

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WILLIAMSPORT -- There is a new head honcho in central Pennsylvania for the State Department of Environmental Protection.

It is the same region that has seen lots of development with the natural gas industry.

With fourteen counties and more than 100 employees, the DEP's North-central office has a big job to do.

Marcus Kohl has only been in his new role as the DEP's regional director for a couple of months in Williamsport.

But he is already seen how much the natural gas industry has changed and is changing the North-central region.

"We have waste impacts, water impacts, air compressor stations, it runs the gamut," said Kohl.

Kohl was named regional director this Summer after a decade with the DEP. With so much happening in his 14-county region, much of it related to natural gas, Kohl said he is confident he has the right number of employees to handle the job of protecting the environment.

"We have adequate staff. We do what we can. We have to continually become more efficient because our workload continues to increase," he said.

While Kohl will not necessarily oversee hydraulic fracturing and drilling at natural gas wells (that is handled by another office in South-central Pennsylvania), he will oversee permitting process for things like pipelines which lead to compressor stations which make a big impact in our area.

There are critics of the Department of Environmental Protection who say the administration's priorities are misplaced and that is harming people who live in this area.

"Economic development is job one, environmental protection is job two, that's clear to everybody who's paying attention. We think that's wrong," said Ralph Kisberg with the Responsible Drilling Alliance.

To that, Kohl said his job is to enforce the rules on the books; no more, no less.

"Our issue is making sure we continue to use flexibility where we have it, allow for economic growth but make sure the economic growth has no impact on environmental," said Kohl. A minute later, he corrected his statement. "Maybe I take back no impact. It's to minimize those impacts in accordance with the law."

Kohl is looking forward to coming changes in the permitting process that could lessen the load on employees, he said. That way they can focus on enforcing the rules and regulations on the books.