Monday, June 29, 2015

PA Environmental Council Objects To Bill Killing Conventional Oil, Gas Well Regs

The PA Environmental Council Monday wrote to all members of the Senate Monday urging them to remove a section of the Fiscal Code bill-- Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh)-- that invalidates the regulations DEP proposed to ensure conventional oil and gas wells protect the environment and makes DEP start the process over.
The House added the language to the bill late Sunday night and passed it Monday by a vote of 107 to 87.
The text of the letter follows--
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, we are asking members of the Pennsylvania Senate to remove rulemaking prohibition language in Senate Bill 655 (P.N. 1137) relating to conventional oil and gas operations. This prohibition does not belong in the state fiscal code, is against the public interest, and potentially violates the single subject rule of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
With Act 13 of 2012, the General Assembly passed, and Governor Corbett signed, environmental protection standards applicable to both conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations. Since that time, the General Assembly, through last second inclusion in state budget legislation, has made efforts to walk back protections applicable to conventional operations despite clear and growing evidence that such operations pose ongoing risks and liabilities to the public and environment.
If the General Assembly wants to revisit standards relating to conventional operations, it should do so openly in dedicated legislation where its members and the public are given fair and full opportunity to participate and comment on the merits of the proposal. Using fiscal code legislation as a vehicle violates the public trust. It may also violate the state’s Constitution.
Last week the Pennsylvania courts issued a determination in the consolidated Sears challenge that questioned the ongoing legality of using state budget legislation to advance non-fiscal ends. We believe that inclusion of an environmental rulemaking prohibition in Senate Bill 655 is precisely the type of action the Court is contemplating when it references logrolling concerns underlying Article III of the Constitution.
We ask that you give the people of Pennsylvania full and fair opportunity to participate in the legislative process, and to remove the rulemaking prohibition in Senate Bill 655. We will also call on Governor Wolf to veto this legislation if it passes in current form.  
Thank you for your consideration.
-- John Walliser, Vice President, Legal & Government Affairs, PA Environmental Council

Water System Conference, Celebrating 20 Years Of Partnership For Safe Water Oct. 28-30

The PA Chapter of the American Water Works Association will host the 2015 Water System Optimization Conference October 28-30 In Hershey.  Click Here for more information on the Conference agenda and registration information.

PA Environmental Council Receives $1.5M Grant From William Penn Foundation

The PA Environmental Council Monday announced it has received a $1.5 million grant from the William Penn Foundation for support of development of the Circuit trail network in Bucks, Delaware, and Philadelphia counties.
The funding, spread over two years, will enable PEC to focus on portions of the East Coast Greenway, a trail stretching from Florida to Maine that is also a critical link in completing the 750-mile Circuit.
“The William Penn Foundation’s commitment to completion of the Circuit is doubly significant because of the trail work itself, and the importance that this network has to the Philadelphia region,” PEC Executive Vice President Patrick Starr said. “The Foundation’s most recent grant continues its commitment to ensuring alternative transportation for Philadelphians.”
Currently, 300 miles of the Circuit are open for use, while 400 remain to be built. Working with a variety of partners, PEC has been a key factor in the creation of the Circuit as a policy leader and as an implementer of trails.
In particular, PEC has been involved with the planning and implementation of one of the Circuit’s trunk lines—the East Coast Greenway—for more than a decade. The Circuit itself was formally announced in May 2012. The grant period runs from July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.
The grant also enables PEC to start the process of linking the Circuit with trail development that has occurred and continues to grow in the Northeastern part of the state.
The ability to engage in additional endorsement of trail development and further advocacy and leadership in statewide trail initiatives throughout Pennsylvania is a principal goal of PEC’s 2015 Strategic Program Plan.
It is PEC’s aim to connect the people of the Commonwealth to the outdoors and educate them about the state’s rich natural resources while engaging them in environmental stewardship and advocacy. The continuation of the Circuit is a practical way for Pennsylvanians to explore, experience, and enjoy Pennsylvania’s diverse outdoor resources.
“PEC is a leader in trail planning and promotion statewide, and this grant further solidifies that fact,” PEC President and CEO David Woodwell said. “It is PEC’s goal to get Pennsylvanians outdoors and in touch with the Commonwealth’s astounding natural resources to engage citizens in the protection and restoration of the environment.”
As part of its statewide trail initiative, PEC is also a member of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, a group of 20 organizations in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, Western Maryland, and Southwestern New York working to complete and connect a system of 1,600 miles of share use trails.
Now 53 percent complete, the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition includes the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail that hosts over 800,000 trips annually and generates over $40 million in direct annual spending from its trail users.
PEC’s vision is that by 2033, the 53-county region will be positioned as the epicenter of a multi-use trail system in the region.
For more information on activities and programs, visit the PA Environmental Council website.

PUC Releases New Guide To Consumer Complaint Process

The Public Utility Commission Monday released a new Consumer Complaint Procedures Guide, designed to educate consumers about the Commission’s complaint process. An additional quick reference sheet, “Know the PUC Complaint Process and Your Options,” also offers handy instructions about how to file a complaint with the PUC.
“These resources are intended to address common questions that are encountered when filing a complaint against a utility,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “For example, it is important for consumers to understand that they should first contact their utility if they are experiencing a problem, and that the PUC acts as an intermediary between the customer and utility. This is one of the most common areas of confusion that we see when consumers reach out to our Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS) to file a complaint.”
The consumer guide and quick reference sheet are available on the PUC’s website. They detail the differences between filing an informal versus a formal complaint; provide an explanation of the complaint filing process; and include information on how to find important forms online.
From January through June, the BCS has received approximately 45,000 consumer inquiries, and, of those, approximately 30,000 cases have become informal complaint investigations. The Commission has received 1,122 formal complaints since January.

Monday PA Environmental NewsClips

Click Here  for PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

Sunday, June 28, 2015

House Committee Votes To Kill Regulations Covering Conventional Oil and Gas Wells And Start Over

In the House Appropriations Committee late Sunday night, Republicans  adopted an amendment to the Fiscal Code in Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh) that invalidates the regulations DEP proposed to ensure conventional oil and gas wells protect the environment and makes DEP start the process over.
The language in the amendment said the process used by DEP to propose the regulations was “invalid” with respect to conventional wells, but the language could be interpreted to also apply to unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells since they both used the same process stopping that process as well.
The same tactic-- amending the Fiscal Code-- was used last year by conventional well drillers to direct DEP to adopt separate regulations for conventional and unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells.
The Fiscal Code has been a convenient vehicle used by the Senate and House to adopt laws that do not go through any committees, not subjected to public hearings and are not voted on by either chamber.  
In fact, the language and concept of killing regulations for conventional well drillers added to Senate Bill 655 didn’t even not appear in any Senate or House bill before it suddenly appeared Sunday night.
Last week, PA Independent Oil and Gas Association filed a lawsuit challenging DEP’s regulations saying “natural gas developers protect public resources through voluntary measures” and other environmental law.  
PIOGA ask the PA Supreme Court to eliminate DEP’s enforcement of setbacks from streams, wetlands and other natural features as well as protection of public resources like parks, game land or wildlife area, protect endangered species, historic sites and wellhead protection areas.
The conventional well drillers try, at every opportunity, to perpetuate the myth that conventional drill is “benign” and doesn’t affect the environment.
In fact, in 2014, conventional oil and gas well operations accounted for nearly 78 percent of the total violations DEP recorded for conventional and unconventional drilling operations, but just over 52 percent of the inspections.
DEP also has a running list of 248 cases where DEP has made a determination on whether water supplies were contaminated by oil and natural gas drill from 2008 to 2014.  About half of the water supplies were damaged by conventional drilling and half by unconventional, according to DEP.
Of the 19 special caution areas with poisonous hydrogen sulfide dangers DEP has identified and dealt with over the last few years, 14 were from conventional wells.
DEP began the process of proposing oil and gas regulations in response to the passage of Act 13 in 2013, nearly two and a half years ago.  DEP held an unprecedented 12 public hearings on the proposals as well as lengthy public comment periods.
A copy of the amendment is available online.
Senate Bill 655 now goes to the full House for action, and if successful, must be concurred in by the Senate.

Sunday PA Environmental NewsClips

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

House Passes $30.1 Billion Republican General Fund Budget Bill 112-77

The House Saturday passed the Senate/House Republican budget in House Bill 1192 (Adolph-R-Delaware) by a vote of 112 to 77 which now goes to the Senate Sunday.  It is a $30.1 billion no tax increase state budget, just over $1 billion more than last year.
The intent of Republicans is to put it on the Governor's desk by the end of June 30.
Gov. Wolf has already put out a statement that said he will veto the GOP’s “gimmick budget.” Saturday evening, Gov. Wolf said the Republican budget was not balanced and would result in a $3 billion deficit.
House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) issued this statement:  “The Republican leadership in Harrisburg has made it really easy for Democrats to vote against this sham budget proposal. It does not meet the real needs of Pennsylvania. It cynically continues the gimmicks and make-believe budget ideas of the last four years
“This Republican budget that the House will be asked to vote on Saturday can accurately be labeled as ‘Corbett 5.0,’ but Tom Corbett can’t be blamed for this piece of junk. It lies squarely with the current Republican leadership in the House and Senate.”
Republicans pointed to these budget highlights:
— No new taxes or tax increases.
— $30.1 billion in total state spending.
— $100 million new state dollars for basic education that is combined with reforms to the basic education funding formula and improvements in accountability.
— $20 million for special education.
— $30 million for early education, including Pre-K Counts and Head Start.
— $300 million in savings for the state and school districts to pay for capital improvements.
— $41 million across the board for higher education.
— $2.8 million to address avian flu.
— Expanding community-based services for seniors to help keep them in their homes and communities.
— Structural reform to the pension system, which is the No. 1 cost driver for the state and school districts.
— $200 million in additional revenues through liquor reforms.
— Stronger state revenues, meaning the deficit is not at the levels previously anticipated.
A House Republican spreadsheet with General Fund line items is available online.  House Democrats distributed a budget spreadsheet and a staff summary of the Republican budget.
NewsClips:
House Committee OKs GOP Pension Plan Over Shouting Democrats

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