A Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 1327 (Peifer-R-Pike)-- approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday night would gut environmental regulations, subvert the public input process for clean air standards, and give handouts to the oil and gas industry.
Pennsylvania's environmental and conservation community– National Resources Defense Council, PennFuture, Union of Concerned Scientists, Clean Water Action, Sierra Club PA Chapter, Clean Air Council, PennEnvironment, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, BlueGreen Alliance, Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association/ Pennsylvania Solar Energy Industries Association, and NextGen Climate America– slammed the eleventh-hour Senate Appropriations Committee amendments as "state government at its least transparent and most hostile to public health, clean air, and pure water."
The groups urged the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf to reject passage of the Fiscal Code that would likely delay Pennsylvania's implementation of the EPA Clean Power Climate Plan, the federal plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.
It would also exempt conventional oil and gas wells from compliance with updated health and safety regulations, and shift existing funding for renewable energy sources to natural gas development.
The latest version of the Fiscal Code, House Bill 1327, would give the General Assembly the power to hold up the Department of Environmental Protection's development of a state plan to reduce power plant emissions – potentially delaying it by years.
It would als prohibit the state Environmental Quality Board from adopting much-needed and long overdue modernizations of Pennsylvania's oil and gas drilling regulations.
The bill also appropriates $12 million from the Alternative Energy Investment Act to create a new "Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund" to further subsidize an industry that already benefits from billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.
Pennsylvania's Fiscal Code must be passed annually to authorize expenditures provided for in the budget bill.
PennFuture president and CEO, Larry Schweiger said, "With a new sense of urgency for passing a budget to fulfill the basic functions of government to its citizens who have been held hostage for over five months, lawmakers are shoving this Fiscal Code through so they can run off to New York and attend the Pennsylvania Society dinner and related fundraisers with funders who are likely to benefit from this bad deal – big oil and gas companies."
This Fiscal Code includes language which circumvents the public input process currently underway.
In the case of the Clean Power Plan, the DEP just concluded a public input process consisting of 14 listening sessions around the state and a 60-day written comment period, and will hold an additional comment period in 2016.
And there have been multiple opportunities for input into the gas drilling regulations over the last two years. Moreover, the amendments may be unconstitutional, because the Fiscal Code is supposed to deal with appropriations, not environmental standards.
"Implementation of the Clean Power Plan is an issue that affects all Pennsylvanians," said Mark Szybist, Senior Program Advocate for NRDC. "It needs to be worked out transparently, as the DEP has been doing – not in backroom deals."
"Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians submitted comments and attended hearings on climate and gas drilling regulations," said Adam Garber, Field Director for PennEnvironment. "The General Assembly shouldn't undermine that robust democratic process through secret, back door amendments in the state budget."
"By attacking the Clean Power Plan process and the oil and gas regulations using virtually hidden language in the fiscal code, the legislature is circumventing the public and acting in direct contradiction to the will of their constituents," said Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club PA Chapter, "Using the fiscal code in this way lacks transparency, violates the public's trust, and runs counter the Pennsylvania Constitution."
House Bill 1327 was reported out by the Senate Appropriations Committee Wednesday is expected to be considered on the Senate floor Thursday. The environmental and conservation groups urged all state Senators and Representatives to reject the Fiscal Code and craft a responsible state budget for Pennsylvania's citizens and environment.
Related Stories:PA Environmental Council Opposes Budget Bill Killing Conventional Drilling Regulations