Thursday, September 15, 2016

New DEP Secretary, Other Issues May Be On Fall House, Senate Agenda

The House returns to voting session Monday and is scheduled to have only 12 voting days between now and the November election.  The Senate returns September 26 and has even fewer-- 9 voting days.
With the Clinton-Trump Presidential election fight making a hash of the campaign trail, most members want to simply duck and cover-- duck controversies of any kind and cover their political… positions… they need to get re-elected in the Fall.
For environmental advocates, that is likely to result in playing defense on several issues like defending the updates Marcellus Shale drilling regulations, defending State Parks from forced commercial development and fighting against legislation that would set unreasonable limits on the state’s authority to regulate pollution where necessary.
There is also the issue of Gov. Wolf nominating a new Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection.   Patrick McDonnell was named Acting DEP Secretary on May 20 after the resignation of John Quigley.
Legislative Issues
Here are some examples of issues that may come up this Fall---
-- Undoing Marcellus Shale Drilling Regulations:  DEP and advocates have fought hard for significant improvements to the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling regulations in Chapter 78a that are on the verge of being published as final in the PA Bulletin.  Senate Bill 1229 (Vogel-R- Beaver) an Administrative Code bill was amended by the Senate at the last minute July 11 to rollback those regulations with respect to waste disposal reporting, restoration of drilling sites and on-site water storage standards.  The bill was opposed by environmental groups and now sits in the House Rules Committee waiting for a concurrence vote.  The bill includes a grab-bag of legislative changes on other issues, so it is not clear if it will move.  The Senate Republicans have indicated the Marcellus Shale language is important to them, however.  The Senate, House and Gov. Wolf already approved legislation in June to kill DEP’s update to conventional well drilling regulations.   Click Here for more.
-- Opening State Parks To Private Development: On June 28 the House voted 123 to 77 to defeat House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler) that would have opened State Parks to private development, but proponents immediately made a motion so the vote could be reconsidered at any time in the future.  The bill was opposed by environmental and State Park advocates.  Another bill-- House Bill 2188 (Christiana-R-Beaver)-- would force DCNR to build 4 golf courses in State Parks, but has not seen any action.  Click Here for more.
-- Energy Efficient State Construction Code: The Senate amended and passed House Bill 568 (Evankovich-R-Allegheny) that makes changes to the process now used to adopt updates to the state’s Uniform Construction Code.  But the changes did not represent a consensus among stakeholders involved in the issue, including environmental, green building and energy efficiency advocates.  The bill is in the House Rules Committee waiting for a concurrence vote.  Click Here for more.
-- No More Stringent Than Federal Standards: Republicans have introduced several bills that would take away the state’s ability to regulate pollution beyond the standards set by the federal government that could be addressed--
-- Senate Bill 1327 (Reschenthaler-R-Allegheny) would limit the regulation of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.  The bill has not seen any action and is in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  Click Here for more.
-- House Bill 1967 (Gabler-R-Clearfield) would eliminate the current DEP limit on temporarily ceasing surface coal mining operations for 180 days and replace it with the less stringent federal requirement that has no specific time frames. The bill has not seen any action and is in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  Click Here for more.
-- Senate Resolution 385 (Brooks (R-Crawford) directing the Joint State Government Commission to identify state environmental laws and regulations that are more stringent than federal law as a first step toward rolling back those protections.  The bill has not seen any action and is in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  Click Here for more.
Other legislation that could be addressed as part of the new emphasis on prescription drug abuse might be House Bill 1737 (Maher-R-Allegheny) that would ensure safe disposal of unused or unwanted prescription and over-the-counter medications.  Click Here for more.
Of course the way things go in the Senate and House, language from one bill or resolution could be easily put into another, so these bills may not be the ones that actually pass, which only adds to the fun.
Funding Issues
The PA Growing Greener Coalition is also gearing up its initiative for a new, expanded Growing Greener III funding proposal to address the significant cuts in state support for environmental restoration, recreation, open space and other programs.  Click Here for more.
With Pennsylvania coming under increasing pressure to provide additional resources to comply with federal laws and regulations requiring the cleanup of the state’s rivers and streams, including in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the General Assembly and the Wolf Administration are being called on to make good on their clean water commitments.
Time will tell what will get done by the Senate and House this fall.
Since the General Assembly is required to adjourn sine die on November 30 by the state’s constitution, all bills not given final action by the Senate and House will have to start all over again in the new session starting in January.
Other Legislative Issues On The Fall Agenda
House, Senate Return With Only A Few Voting Days Left, What Will They Do?
Related Stories:
CBF-PA Targets 5 Counties For Chesapeake Bay Watershed Cleanup

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