A judge has raised concerns over how the state Department of Environmental Protection handled a controversial permit to mine coal under a western Pennsylvania state park. Court records show the agency’s approval of the Consol Energy permit partially relied on data collected by a DEP staffer who had previously done consulting work for Consol.

Two environmental groups challenged the permit allowing Consol to mine under a stream in Greene County’s Ryerson Station State Park late last year. In a rare move, the state Environmental Hearing Board sided with the groups.

In his opinion, Judge Steven Beckman questions the role of Jeffery Thomas, a licensed professional geologist with DEP’s California District Mining Office. Before joining DEP in July 2015, Thomas testified he’d worked for Moody & Associates environmental consulting firm for 11 years. Some of his work there was on behalf of Consol’s Bailey Mine. Thomas then said he used data he’d collected as a consultant to later evaluate Consol’s permit application to DEP for that same mine.

Judge Beckman notes he found it “extremely surprising” DEP management allowed this situation to occur.

“It is inherently difficult to be fully objective in reviewing data that you collected on behalf of a permit applicant,” writes Beckman. “We question the wisdom of assigning a department employee to review his own data collected on behalf of a permit applicant, as part of the process of determining whether to issue a permit.”

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This story comes from our content partner StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration between WITF and WHYY covering the fiscal and environmental impact of Pennsylvania’s booming energy economy.