Almost a month into his new job, the Delaware River Basin Commission’s top regulator says he’s still in the “listening and learning mode.”
Steven Tambini left his role as vice president of operations for Pennsylvania American Water and took over as the commission’s executive director on Aug. 1. He replaced Carol Collier, who held the position since 1998.
A water supply engineer and planner for 30 years, Tambini worked in water and wastewater utilities in 11 states, according to his profile on Bloomberg Businessweek.
“Coming from a regulated community, I definitely have a different perspective,” Tambini said.
The commission, formed in 1961 by the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware, manages water supply and water quality in the roughly 13,500-square-mile river basin.
The commission’s most controversial issue is its effective moratorium on natural gas development. In May 2010, the commissioners decided they would not approve well pads until the commission adopted regulations on the industry.
Final regulations were published in November 2011, but the commissioners indefinitely postponed their Nov. 21 meeting to vote on the rules. In July 2013, then-chairwoman Michele Siekerka, who represented New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said the agency is still studying the industry’s environmental effects and monitoring baseline conditions in the basin.
Both sides in the battle over gas drilling are closely watching Tambini’s actions.
In March, following his appointment, Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Spigelmyer told The Philadelphia Inquirer the industry group looks forward to working with Tambini “specifically advancing common-sense, workable regulations that permit safe shale development in portions of Northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Last week, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, which opposes drilling, sent a letter asking Tambini to be as welcoming of their group’s input as they felt Collier was.
“Private gossip suggests (the Marcellus Shale Coalition) is encouraged by your past affiliation with Pennsylvania American Water, an associate member in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and hope to find you more sympathetic to its agenda of opening up the basin to shale gas fracking,” director Barbara Arrindell wrote.
In his first weeks as director, Tambini has been meeting with the commissioners, the DRBC’s internal teams and its advisory committees on managing the river basin that 15 million people rely on for drinking water.
The basin is a high-quality resource, Tambini said, citing its designation of 197 miles of the non-tidal river from Hancock, New York, to Trenton, New Jersey, as special protection waters.
This designation, done in pieces from 1992 through 2008, brought more stringent water quality requirements, including the need to maintain existing water quality.
The river and its tributaries are extremely diverse, he said.
“Some are urbanized, some are rural,” he said. “You have a host of potential water-quality issues.”