On Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Protection released a report on its 2015 accomplishments.
Under the Wolf Administration, the report said, the Department of Environmental Protection has worked to use innovation to help restore the capacity and integrity of the agency that protects Pennsylvania’s air, land, water, and public health.
DEP Secretary John Quigley said he is committed to collaboration, science, and transparency in meeting the agency’s mission.
Over the past year, DEP has made major advances, even though DEP lost 14 percent of its staff complement over the last 10 years, with 671 fewer positions than 7 years ago. That is compared to a state government average of a 6 percent decrease in staff in that same time period.
Modernizing the agency has also been a challenge; with the department’s Information Technology budget 43 percent less in nominal terms than it was 11 years ago.
With modernization in mind, the department achieved the following successes in 2015:
Protecting Public Health And The Environment
—Final Chapter 78 Oil & Gas Drilling Regulations: DEP updated the performance standards for surface activities at conventional and unconventional oil and gas well sites to ensure additional protections to the environment, public health, and safety. This rulemaking represents the first update to rules governing surface activities associated with the development of oil and gas wells since 2001, and implements provisions of the 2012 Oil and Gas Act. After an unprecedented 12 public hearings, almost 28,000 public comments, and the creation of the Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (COGAC), the rules are on track for Spring 2016 adoption.
— Online Natural Gas Production Reporting: DEP implemented monthly online production reporting for unconventional natural gas wells, to improve transparency in gas production that will be particularly useful for royalty owners and production forecasters. Production data was previously reported on a semi-annual basis.
— Worked On Chesapeake Bay Program Reboot: DEP worked with federal and state agencies, and stakeholders to develop a plan for a January 2016 launch to “reboot” Pennsylvania’s effort to restore local water quality and that of the Chesapeake Bay.
— Assessment Of Climate Change Impacts: DEP released a scientific assessment of the impacts of climate disruption on Pennsylvania. The report, prepared for DEP at the direction of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, finds that Pennsylvania has warmed 1.8°F in the past 110 years, and the warming will increase at an accelerated rate.
By 2050, Pennsylvania will be 5.4°F warmer than it was in the year 2000. By 2050, Philadelphia’s climate will be similar to current-day Richmond, Virginia. Pittsburgh will be similar to current-day Washington, DC or Baltimore, Maryland.
— Listening Sessions On EPA Clean Power Climate Plan: DEP commenced work on Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan, with Secretary Quigley chairing 14 listening sessions as part of the effort to develop a made-for-Pennsylvania plan to achieve federal mandates.
DEP was selected by the National Governors Association as one of four states to participate in a Policy Academy to help states examine cost-effective strategies for meeting the potential requirements of federal regulations to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants.
— Nitrogen Oxide Reductions: DEP advanced the Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) regulation to reduce Nitrogen Oxide emissions from power plants through the Environmental Quality Board. Final action by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission is anticipated early in 2016.
— Brunner Island Air Pollution Reduction Plan Changes: DEP successfully negotiated with Talen Energy the submission of a request to modify the air plan approval for the Brunner Island Power Plant, which is southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania’s largest emitter of nitrogen oxide (NOx), to establish an enforceable 50 percent reduction in the potential to emit NOx emissions from the facility. The request for the modification was received by DEP on December 17, 2015.
Driven By Science
— Study Of Bass Mortality In Lower Susquehanna: DEP facilitated a multi-year, multi-agency study to eliminate possible causes of young-of-year smallmouth bass mortality in the Susquehanna River. The study examined 14 possible causes, and identified 2 likely causes – endocrine disrupting compounds/herbicides and pathogens/parasites. The results of this research allow DEP to focus on identifying the sources of the likely causes and continue research into some of the candidate causes that provided uncertain results.
— DEP/DCNR Statewide Seismic Monitoring Network: DEP partnered with DCNR to create a statewide seismic monitoring network. The new, joint effort will maintain a network of 30 real-time monitoring stations, most of which will be located on state park lands. In addition to the 30 fixed stations, 5 additional temporary stations will be available for rapid deployment to investigate seismic events in detail.
— More Efficient Mine Drainage Treatment: DEP evaluated and redesigned a treatment method at Lancashire treatment plant in Cambria County within the West Branch Susquehanna River Basin, to lower costs while preserving effluent performance. The alternative strategy produces an effluent quality equal or better than the traditional method, with annual operational savings of more than $200,000. This savings will help preserve assets in the Barnes and Tucker Treatment Trust to ensure the long-term treatment of the Lancashire No. 15 Mine Pool.
Committed To Collaboration
— Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force: DEP convened Gov. Tom Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, a collaborative task force to explore the burgeoning construction of as many as 25,000 miles of natural gas gathering lines and 5,000 miles of interstate natural gas pipelines. In early 2016, the multi-agency, multi-stakeholder task force will recommend practices that will create predictability in permitting while simultaneously reducing environmental and community impacts.
— Revived, Renamed Office Of Environmental Justice: DEP revived and renamed DEP Office of Environmental Justice, to serve all residents of Pennsylvania, and improve partnerships with Environmental Justice community members and advocates in policy, planning and permitting processes. New staff are establishing a dialogue with communities that do not always have a voice in environmental issues, ensuring that their concerns are heard, and where possible addressed, by the agency.
— Developed New ALCOSAN Sewage Pollution Reduction Plan: DEP developed a two-phase plan providing 83 Allegheny County Sanitary Authority customer municipalities an 18-month extension of consent orders that expired March 30. The first phase requires the customer municipalities to develop a source reduction study to reduce flows entering in the regional sewer collection system that includes consideration of green infrastructure.
— Launched Online eComment Tool: DEP launched the online eComment tool to enhance public participation in and transparency of regulatory process. Nearly 4,000 comments have been submitted to the system on issues like climate change, pipeline infrastructure, water management, and the federal Clean Power Plan.
As An Innovator
— Completed Information Technology Needs Assessment: DEP completed assessment of Information Technology needs and developed a strategic plan to modernize IT, improve business processes, track performance metrics, transition to new geolocation-based mobile solutions, paperless workflows, archive digitization, internal data-driven analytical research efforts, and greater transparency to the public and regulated community.
— Begin Scientific, Technical Needs Assessment: DEP began an assessment of systems and processes to enhance the scientific and technical capabilities of the agency.
— Reviewed Policies For More Consistent Statewide Application: DEP conducted internal reviews of various agency policies to provide for more consistent statewide application.
— Agency Reorganization To Focus Available Resources: DEP began a multi-phase agency reorganization to better focus resources.
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Gov. Wolf Reviews Accomplishments During 1st Year In Office