Protesters demand to be heard at DRBC meeting

DRBC - singing
Protesters chant and sing at today's DRBC meeting.

Today's meeting of the Delaware River Basin Commission, normally placid affair, has erupted into shouts and calls of reproach from protesters in the audience.

For a brief time, when the gavel-banging and pleas of chair Kelly Heffner, a water chief  with the Pennsylvania Department of Enviromental Protection, failed to restore order, the commission went into a recess.

As the members left the room, the protesters chanted, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" Then they started singing, "This Land is Your Land."

Protesters want the commission to increase its overview of natural gas pipeline projects crossing the Delaware River and the broader river basin. They say that clear-cutting, erosion, soil compaction and other effects of construction are harming the basin and the water quality.

However, the rules of the commission, which oversses water quality and quantity in the basin, specifically exempt piplines from commission review, with some limited exceptions.

One of those exceptions prompted a decision to review two pipelines that have already been completed

About 70 protesters  came to today's meeting, hoping to convince the commissioners -- representatives of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and the federal government -- to act.

The rukus began when Heffner said the commission would not be addressing a letter from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network about the pipeline issue. "With all due respect, we will be addressing that letter," she said. "We just can't do it today."

At that, Delaware Riverkeeper Maya van Rossum stood and said the next commission meeting, "will be too late." She kept speaking, and Heffner countered, "this is a warning, please take your seat."

A public comment period was scheduled for the end of the meeting, but protesters began interrupting the business portion, standing up and shouting.

After the impromptu recess, Heffner said that public comment period would begin immediately, but protesters refused to wait until called. They stood up, sometimes interrupting each other, to speak.

Comments are typically held to two minutes, and the commission displayed a countdown clock on a screen at the front of the room.

For now, at the end of each two minute segment, the microphone is being turned off, but many speakers keep on speaking.

The meeting is continuing.

Continue Reading