Tuesday, May 14, 2019

House Committee Republicans Ask IRRC To Turn Down DEP Water Permit Fee Increases Made Necessary By Cuts In DEP’s General Fund Budget

On May 14, Republicans on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to send a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission urging them to disapprove of a proposed EQB regulation increasing DEP’s Water Quality/NPDES permit review fees made necessary by cuts in DEP’s General Fund budget appropriation.
Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the Committee, said starving DEP of General Fund appropriations, then voting to block the proposed fee increase will do harm to  DEP’s mission of protecting the environment.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair, responded by saying Republicans were successful in blocking proposed tax increases by Gov. Wolf that would have lead to DEP hiring more staff adding the proposed fee increases were not reasonable by anyone’s definition.
DEP is proposing a total increase of $6 million in Chapter 92a NPDES-- $5 million-- and Chapter 91 Water Quality-- $1 million-- permit fees.
The NPDES permit fee increases would cover approximately 4,000 facilities and the Water Quality permit fees from 500 to 600 applicants annually.
Chapter 91 wastewater facility fees have not been increased since 1971 and NPDES permit fees were last increased in 2010.
Since 2007, DEP’s Clean Water Program staff has been reduced by 25 percent due to cuts in state General Fund appropriations.
DEP believes 25 additional staff are necessary in the Bureau of Clean Water to adequately carry out its responsibilities.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has told DEP several times since 2010 the agency does not have adequate resources to carry out its federally mandated responsibilities for the NPDES Program, including the MS4 Stormwater Pollution Prevention Program.
“DEP is explicit about its intent to collect approximately eight million additional dollars annually from these fee increases to support its Clean Water Program. A clear reading of the language of the statute indicates that DEP should be collecting reasonable filing fees specifically for applications filed and permits issued. Thus, these fees should be correlated to the cost of processing the specific permits for which the fees are collected, not generally funding DEP's Clean Water Program.
“Funding for the rest of the Clean Water Program should and has come out of DEP's General Fund appropriation, and not out of fees levied on businesses and municipalities throughout the Commonwealth. lt was not the intention of the General Assembly to fund DEP's Clean Water Program through application fees authorized by the Clean Streams Law.
“Another important consideration regarding statutory authorization of these increases is the word reasonable. Though what is reasonable is certainly subjective, it is clear from the extreme percentage of the proposed increases that this regulation moves beyond reasonable by any definition.
“DEP is proposing exponential increases from existing fees, with the highest increase proposed being a 2,900 percent increase, an increase in the new WQM permit fee for major industrial waste treatment plants from $soo to S15,000. As it is IRRC's role to analyze
“Instead of fulfilling government's role of supporting local Pennsylvanian businesses and communities, this regulation would hurt many of those who can least afford it.
“Though the regulation would apply universally, smaller businesses and municipalities with limited resources would be disproportionately impacted by these excessive increases should the proposed regulation take effect.
“We note, for example, that you have already received comments from many farm owners, particularly from those with small, family-owned farms, who will be severely impacted by the increase in CAFO fees.
“Finally, and perhaps the least palatable portion of this proposed regulation, is the proposal to adjust fees every two years based on changes to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Cost Index for State and Local Government Compensation.
“Allowing fee increases to occur based on an index without going through the regulatory process circumvents the intent of the General Assembly to require that fee increases be set by regulation.
“This will also prevent the important step required by the Regulatory Review Act of public participation in the process by allowing future increases to happen out of the public's view, thus denying Pennsylvanians who will be impacted the ability to comment.”
[Note: DEP began working with the Water Resources Advisory Committee in March of 2016 to develop this fee package.  
[Since then, the House and Senate have had multiple opportunities to review the regulation as members of the Environmental Quality Board (twice), through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission review process (twice) and during the public comment period advertised in the PA Bulletin and sent to members and public meetings of the Water Resources Advisory Committee.]
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: dmetcalf@pahousegop.com. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: gvitali@pahouse.net.

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