Thursday, May 14, 2020

House Republicans Give Final Approval To Bill Blocking Environmental, Other Regulations; Next Stop The Governor’s Desk

On May 14, House Republicans gave final approval to Senate Bill 327 (Argall-R- Schuylkill), which contains a provision that would stop any proposed or final environmental or other state agency regulation from being finalized during the COVID-19 emergency.
The Senate and House Republicans have now given their final approval to the bill.  The next stop is the Governor for his action.
          Note: The emergency declaration for the opioid overdose crisis has been in place since January 2018.
House Republicans have a similar bill on its Calendar awaiting action--  House Bill 2416 (Everett-R-Lycoming).
Both bills were only passed by Republicans in votes in the House and the Senate.
Background On Regulation Blocking
Under the amended Senate Bill 327, no proposed regulation may be submitted in final form to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission or the House and Senate committees.
No final or final-omitted regulation may be promulgated as a regulation by DEP or any agency.
The bill allows state agencies to petition the appropriate standing committees of the Senate and House-- solely controlled by Republicans-- for a waiver from the prohibition against publishing regulations.
There is no requirement in the bill for the committees to take any action on the request.
This procedure raises significant constitutional issues because it requires nothing be passed by the full Senate and House and presentment to the Governor.
On April 14, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, sent a letter to DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell demanding DEP stand down on environmental regulations during the COVID-19 shutdown.
The provisions in this bill-- like House Bill 2416-- are consistent with the demand by Rep. Metcalfe.  Read more here.
Click Here for more background on the bill and learn other House and Senate Republican efforts to kill environmental regulations, take permitting authority away from DEP and starve state environmental protection programs of funding.
Affected DEP Regulations
This bill would have an immediate impact on important DEP regulations, including--
-- Final regulation increasing permit fees on unconventional oil and gas well permits that is needed to fund DEP’s Oil and Gas Well Management Program
-- Final regulation reducing the sulfur content of heating oil from 500 ppm to 15 ppm
-- Final regulation updating hazardous waste regulations to conform to federal requirements
-- Proposed regulation setting air emission standards for Oil & Gas Operations
-- Proposed regulation setting cleanup standards for PFOA/PFOS contamination
-- Proposed regulation increasing Air Quality Permit fees needed to fund the program
-- Proposed regulation increase Water Quality/NPDES Permit fees needed to fund the program
-- Proposed regulation redesignating the Water Quality protection for over 40 streams
-- Proposed regulation setting a water quality standard for manganese
For a more comprehensive list, visit DEP’s eComment webpage.  Click Here for DEP Regulatory Update report showing the status of regulations.
PA Environmental Council
The PA Environmental Council expressed its opposition to the provision blocking regulations saying, "... this legislation is not necessary given powers that already lie with the General Assembly” adding  “This may also have unforeseen and unintended consequences given all the uncertainties of today, and is tied to a Declaration of Emergency that could well outlast the aims of this amendment.
PEC’s letter to House members went on to say-- “Specifically, this newly added language is problematic for several reasons:
-- This new section establishes a blanket prohibition that indiscriminately blocks rulemaking proposals – including those necessary for the protection of public health, or that may be required by state or federal law within a mandated time frame.
-- While the new section speaks to a waiver process through petition to Standing Committees of the General Assembly, there is no requirement that waiver petitions be considered or acted upon. -- Further, there is no guidance on how (or how quickly) the Committees should administer petitions, and whether the public will have the opportunity to provide comment.
-- The Standing Committees and General Assembly already have authority under existing law to review and even abrogate proposed rulemakings, pursuant to an established public process.
-- There is no certainty as to when the Declaration of Disaster Emergency will end, or on what basis it will end. In other words, proposed rulemakings will be delayed for an indefinite period of time.
-- This amended language to Senate Bill 327 is arbitrary and poses potentially significant issues for the protection of the public at a time when those protections may be needed the most. For these reasons, we urge you to oppose this legislation so long as the amended language in Section 2801-G is included.”
3 Front War On The Environment
Conservative Pennsylvania Republicans have been fighting a three front war on environmental programs and funding for the last decade--
-- Starving environmental agencies for funding so they have to cut staff and programs and then turn around and say they can’t do their job [they did this again on April 21];
-- Adding even more layers of bureaucracy and procedures to block environmental regulations, reduce environmental standards and give regulated entities more control over these programs [they’ve done this before too, several times]; and
-- Using every chance they get to cut funding to support community-based projects to protect and restore the environment, improve recreation opportunities and land conservation efforts that real people-- voters-- overwhelmingly support [the Senate Bill 327 amendment is the latest attempt].
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[Posted: May 14, 2020]

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