Bureaucrat Dismisses Public’s Comments As ‘Stupid’ by Ben Hall, October 8, 2012, News Channel 5
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Public comments called “stupid” and dismissed as jokes. That’s what a NewsChannel 5 investigation found in emails from one state agency that’s supposed to keep the public safe. Those emails, from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, reveal a surprising attitude. “I have to let people know I don’t approve of this,” said Laine Southerland, who opposes a controversial way to drill for natural gas called hydraulic fracturing or fracking. … So when the state Department of Environment and Conservation invited public comments on the issue, she voiced her opposition in an e-mail. “I wrote, ‘I vehemently oppose fracking to retrieve oil and gas in Tennessee, please do not gamble with our environment,'” Southerland said as she read her e-mail. But she was shocked when we showed her what the supervisor of Tennessee’s Oil and Gas Program wrote about her comment behind her back. “No No No hey hey goodbye,” she read aloud, adding: “I think that’s very rude, very dismissive and condescending.”
But that’s nice compared to what the supervisor wrote on emails from other environmentalists. Michael Burton called some comments “stupid” and appeared make jokes about others. NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Burton, “Did you write stupid on some of these comments?” “I did,” he admitted. … One of the comments he underlined and called stupid claims hydraulic fracturing has left “homes and farms abandoned, livestock gone” in other states. NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked, “What’s wrong with that comment?” “There’s no recorded incident of that happening anywhere in the United States because of fracking,” Burton responded. But, in Louisiana, 17 cows died after coming in direct contact with hydraulic fracturing fluid. In Pennsylvania, methane gas filled homes near a fracking site forcing families to leave. The company responsible paid the families $1.6 million.
Environmentalists blasted the process saying their comments were largely ignored and that the state favored the oil and gas industry. “This is a charade,” said environmentalist Bruce Wood as he spoke in front of the board last month. Laine Southerland said, “They don’t care about the public unless they agree with their agenda.” … “All comments are taken seriously,” Burton said. NewsChannel 5 Investigates followed, “They weren’t here,” referring to his notes. “It was taken seriously,” Burton said. Southerland still plans to participate in public comment periods, but she said that this has opened her eyes. “They asked for our opinion and then, when we express it, they dismiss it as stupid and hey goodbye,” Southerland said. TDEC released a statement saying it does not approve of Mr. Burton’s comments, but acknowledges its employees are human. It said that public participation is valued. The department did not formally discipline Burton, but said that it did talk with him. [Emphasis added]