Saturday, May 4, 2019

Sen. Yaw Plans Bills On 3rd Party Permitting, Stream Cleaning, Nutrient Procurement, Farm Conservation Excellence, Testing Lead In School Water

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, announced plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks covering a variety of hot button environmental issues.
Here are the available details gleaned from co-sponsor memos he sent to his colleagues asking them to sign on to the legislation.
Farm Conservation Excellence
He proposed legislation establishing the Conservation Excellence Grant Program to provide additional financial and technical assistance to farmers to install and implement best management practices on their land.
“Many farmers across the state are planning and implementing best management practices, such as better manure management and vegetated stream buffers, to reduce pollutants required by federal and state mandates. To this point, many farmers have been faced with the substantial expense of implementing these practices,” said Sen. Yaw.
“This program will help alleviate the financial burdens placed on many in our agriculture community, while also helping them comply with existing federal and state mandates,” added Sen. Yaw.
On February 14, Gov. Wolf proposed a state Farm Bill including a Conservation Excellence Grant Program with a very similar purpose and suggested $2.5 million in funding to support it.
Lead Testing In School Water
“Lead contamination in schools and in public drinking water supplies is a real threat across the U.S. due to aging infrastructure and added replacement costs, and most schools are not regularly checking for lead contamination,” said Sen. Yaw.  “As a result, I will be introducing legislation amending the Public School Code to require all school drinking water systems to be tested for lead contamination.”
Under the bill, DEP, along with the Department of Education, would develop regulations addressing lead testing of water outlets used for drinking and cooking in schools, as well as regulations for remediation. The regulations will also include a certification process.
“Lead is highly toxic and especially damaging to children — impairing how they learn, grow, and behave, which is why this deserves our immediate attention,” said Sen. Yaw.
Sen. Yaw served on a Senate Task Force on Lead Exposure which developed a series of recommendations on reducing lead exposure for children.  This type of legislation was one of the recommendations in the report.
On May 7, Senators John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) [prime sponsor of the resolution establishing the Task Force], Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Judy Schwank (D-Berks), Pat Stefano (R-Fayette) and Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) will hold a press conference to discuss the findings in the report and legislative recommendations.
The press conference will be held in the Capital Media Center starting at 9:30.
Third Party Permitting
He will introduce legislation to expedite the review of Chapter 102 and 105 permit applications by the use of third party consultants chosen by DEP to do technical reviews.
“Under the proposal, the expedited review procedure for these programs would be entirely voluntary, and only those applicants specifically requesting the expedited procedure would be subject to the program. By requesting such expedited procedure, the applicant will be required to pay a separate application review fee directly to the consultant,” said Sen. Yaw.
No bill language is available for this new proposal.
Previous third party permitting proposals had serious, fundamental flaws.
In 2017 the Senate passed third party permitting legislation as part of a deal to enact a natural gas severance tax that was supported by Gov. Wolf.  Ultimately the proposal was not passed because House Republicans objected to the severance tax.
House Republicans last week passed House Bill 509 (Rothman-R-Cumberland) that would require all state agencies to establish a third party permit review program which delegates permit decision-making authority to persons other than the public agency with the legal authority to make those decisions.
All these previous proposals had fatal flaws, including lack of even basic conflict of interest requirements that prevented consultants from reviewing even their own applications, no provisions for public participation, no deadlines for permit reviews by third parties and outlined no real qualifications to become a third party reviewers other than being a licensed engineer, landscape architect, land surveyor or geologist and no provision for the third party to backup their work in case a permit decision is appealed.
In an August 2017 hearing before the Senate Transportation Committee, DEP was very clear on concerns it had with third party permitting proposals.
At a May 1 hearing of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, the Cumberland County Conservation District told the Committee over half the erosion and sedimentation [Chapter 102] plans submitted to the Districts by consultants (mostly engineers) were incomplete.
They also said it takes an AVERAGE of 33 business days (more than 6 calendar weeks) for consultants (engineers) to get back to the District on technical deficiencies.
DEP is nearly finished with an online e-Permitting system it hopes to launch this Fall that will deal with many of these completeness issues and many technical deficiency issues.
The District also noted budget cuts at DEP and the lack of adequate funding for conservation districts have made their job much more difficult.
Click Here for more from that hearing.
Stream Cleaning
He is proposing legislation directing the Environmental Quality Board to develop regulations to authorize counties to adopt a program for “stream cleaning” and maintenance and the removal of obstructions and flood-related hazards from waterways.
Under this proposed program, a county would submit an application to the Department of Environmental Protection that covers the entire county, in order to expedite the process.
This program will include the creation of working “regional curves” that can be utilized to identify stream channel elements of width, depth, cross-sectional area and floodplain dimensions at a given stream reach location in the watershed.
This tool, coupled with an extensive training component for municipal officials and contractors, an expedited permit process, and being overseen locally can achieve the following goals:
-- Provide a tool and mechanism that will enable those conducting stream maintenance activities to do so in a timely and environmentally sensitive manner;
-- Provide a tool that will aid landowners and regulatory authorities in identifying the scope maintenance needs and remedial actions;
-- Provide watershed specific criteria for regulators and emergency response agencies to identify the scope of work needed to restore channel dimensions in emergency and post flood conditions;
-- Begin restoration of channel stability through reconnection of channels to a stable form and to their floodplains as part of any channel maintenance activities.
“The lack of sufficient funding at the federal, state and county levels to address watershed and stream channel issues, both in the near and long range future, necessitate the consideration of a maintenance program that would both meet the needs of the communities bordering streams, as well as working within environmental sensitivities, and aid in returning streams to a more stable form,” said Sen. Yaw.
No bill language is available on this proposal. Click Here for Sen. Yaw’s announcement of the bill.
DEP has taken a series of steps over the last several years to improve the emergency permit process used to clear streams of flood debris hazards, educate landowners and municipalities on the requirements, held an open house in Williamsport and have done other outreach on the issue and published an easy to understand guide on the whole process.
Nutrient Procurement Program
He said he will be introducing legislation to establish a nutrient procurement program that will “engage the private sector and incentivize them to reduce nitrogen pollution at the cheapest cost possible.”
“By incorporating free market principles, bidders will compete to provide the lowest cost, verified reductions to the state,” said Sen. Yaw.  “Since the reductions must be verified by the Department of Environmental Protection before anyone is paid, the taxpayer is not at risk for the performance of any technology.
“The private sector will provide the capital and the state only purchases results once they have be realized,” explained Sen. Yaw.
No bill language is available for this new proposal.
A nutrient procurement proposal last session-- Senate Bill 799 (Alloway-R-Adams) was controversial and not supported by environmental and other groups because it lacked safeguards for taxpayers buying the nutrient credits, the credits did not count toward Pennsylvania’s obligation to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, the only area it applied to and it favored expensive brick-and-mortar technology compared to much cheaper nature-based green infrastructure solutions leaving farmers, who carry the bulk of the cleanup obligations for nutrient pollution, without support for their projects.
There as also no funding source attached to the proposal leading to a concern it would take away already thin funding to help farmers.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to:
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