Tuesday, June 6, 2023

House Committee Reports Out Bill Requiring The Evaluation Of Cumulative Impacts Of Some New Pollution Sources On Communities Already Burdened By Pollution; And Other Bills

On June 6, the
House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out legislation requiring the evaluation of cumulative impacts of some new pollution sources on communities already burdened by pollution, a bill prohibiting cryptocurrency mining operations from using a state tax credit and two resolutions.

Legislation requiring clean hydrogen at any future hydrogen hub developed in the Commonwealth was not considered by the Committee.

Cumulative Impact Reports

House Bill 652 (Bullock-D-Philadelphia) requiring environmental impact reports on certain major sources of pollution in communities already burdened by pollution was amended to more closely align with the new Environmental Justice Program of the Department of Environmental Protection.

The amendment was added to the bill by a party-line vote, Republicans opposing. 

The legislation was reported out of Committee by a party-line, Republicans opposing. 

Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), Minority Chair of the Committee, said he didn’t want to repeat the comments he made about the bill at the Committee’s June 5 hearing on the bill, but they still apply.

“We've all heard very clearly from Governor Shapiro and also from the acting DEP Secretary that a top priority for them is reforming our permitting process and with the focus on promoting business and industry in the state and getting people back to work,” Rep. Causer said. 

“And it appears, from my perspective, this bill does just the opposite. I actually think that this bill discriminates against poor communities by putting additional hurdles in place for jobs and opportunity. So I think that it's very problematic.”

“What's apparent to me is that our permitting system in the Commonwealth is broken, and I think that Gov. Shapiro has recognized that, the acting Secretary of DEP has recognized that with his public comments. It seems like the strategy for some is delay, delay, delay so that projects just don't happen,” said Rep. Causer.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Majority Chair of the Committee, said on June 5, “I could have chosen many bills to run today and have a public hearing on today, but I chose this, because frankly I was really surprised about the inability of the department to consider cumulative impact in issuing permits. And I just think that is essential,”.

“Another point I think that was really poignant and telling here was that so many people in these communities can't even read. I mean, how are they going to protect themselves?” said Rep. Vitali. “How are they going to protect themselves from powerful corporate interests when not only can't they afford a lawyer, but they can't even read?”

“Listen, it's our job to do more to protect everyone. And by giving the Department of Environmental Protection the resources they need, [but] we don't do that,” said Rep. Vitali.  

“To the contrary, we restrict them with resources, but to give them one more tool so that they can look at cumulative impact, they can put extra conditions on a permit to protect people. That they, in some instances yes, even deny permits to protect public health and the environment. 

“I think this is a good thing,” Rep. Vitali said.

The changes made by the amendment to the bill include--

-- Facilities/Permits Covered: A more specific definition of facilities covered by the process includes--

     -- NPDES Water Quality Permits with a discharge of 50,000 gallons per day or more;

     -- Air Permits for any new major source of hazardous air pollutants or criteria pollutants;

     -- Air Permits for any modification of a major source subject to Prevention of Significant Deterioration or Nonattainment New Source Review;

     -- Waste Permits and revisions for disposal, treatment, recycling facilities involving monthly volumes of more than 25 tons;

     -- Mining Permits or revisions for bituminous and anthracite underground and surface mines, coal refuse, preparation facilities, use of biosolids for reclamation;

     -- Individual permit for land application of biosolids;

     -- New or expanded concentrated animal feeding operations greater than 1,000 animal units or greater than 300 animal units in a Special Protection Watershed with a direct discharge;

     -- Electric generating facility with a capacity of more than 10 MW;

     -- Sewage treatment plant with a capacity of more than 50 million gallons per day;

     -- Underground oil and gas waste injection well

     -- Other facilities as designated by the Environmental Quality Board by regulation.

-- Designated Environmental Justice Areas: Authorizes DEP to designate environmental justice areas using criteria defining increased pollution burden and vulnerable populations based on demographic, economic, health and environmental data.

DEP said at a June 5 Committee hearing on House Bill 652 it would soon be releasing a mapping tool to help define Environmental Justice Areas using 32 indicators that include--

     -- Environmental Exposures: ozone, fine particulate, diesel particulate, toxic air emissions, toxic water emissions, pesticides, traffic density, compressor stations, children’s lead risk;

     -- Environmental Effects: Conventional oil/natural gas wells, Unconventional oil/natural gas wells, proximity to railroads, land remediation, hazardous waste and storage sites, municipal waste sites, coal mining, impaired lakes and streams, abandoned mining concerns, flood risk;

     -- Sensitive Populations: asthma, no health insurance, cancer, disability, heart disease;

     -- Socioeconomic Population: low educational attainment, linguistic isolation, housing-burdened low-income households, poverty, unemployment, race, age over 64, age under 5.

-- Cumulative Impact Report: The permit applicant must prepare and submit with the application for facility permit or other authorization, a cumulative environmental impact report assessing the environmental impact of the proposed new facility or expansion of an existing facility, together with the cumulative impacts on the environmental justice area, and the adverse environmental effects that cannot be avoided or mitigated should the permit be granted.

-- Municipal Review: DEP is required to provide municipalities within the Environmental Justice Area with copies of the permit application for review for 60 days.  The municipalities may recommend conditions, revisions or disapproval of the permit “only if specific cause is identified.”  If no comments are received within 60 days, the municipalities have waived their right to review.

-- Public Participation: DEP is required to hold a hearing on the cumulative impact report, unless one is already scheduled within the Environmental Justice Area potentially impacted by the facility giving 21 days notice of the hearing.  DEP cannot make a decision on the permit until at least 60 days after the hearing.

-- Permit Decision: DEP may require additional conditions or mitigation measures or may deny a permit application in an Environmental Justice Area based on the Cumulative Impact Report.  If DEP overrides the recommendations of the municipalities affected, the agency must explain why it did so.

Click Here for a copy of the amendment.

The amendment addresses some, but not all of the major concerns with the original language of House Bill 652 raised by the shale gas industry during the Committee’s June 5 hearing.  Read more here.

In his testimony to the Committee on June 5, Patrick Henderson, representing the Marcellus Shale Coalition and the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania, said, “We believe the threshold question to answer is whether the proposed activity or facility can be undertaken in a manner that is compliant with the law while ensuring our natural resources and public health are protected.

“State Agency review of permits should be robust and consider all relevant information to inform the decision making process, and the agency should strive to do so in a manner that includes consistent criteria and predictable timeframes.”

Major oil and gas infrastructure facilities could be covered by the amended legislation if they are considered a major source of hazardous air pollutants, criteria pollutants or are subject to prevention of significant deterioration or nonattainment new source review under existing regulations.

These facilities include natural gas processing plants, larger compressor stations, natural gas-fired power plants, larger well drilling pads and other infrastructure subject to these individual air permit requirements.

Visit DEP’s Environmental Justice webpage for more information.

Other Legislation Considered

Other bills considered by the Committee were--

-- Excluding Cryptocurrency Operations From Tax Credits: House Bill 1282 (Vitali-D- Delaware) excluding cryptocurrency mining operations from state Computer Data Center Equipment Tax Credit (sponsor summary) was reported out of Committee by a party-line vote, Republicans opposing with Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), Minority Chair, saying it reduces the opportunity for creating jobs.

-- Estimating Lost Natural Gas Severance Tax Revenue: House Resolution 131 (Steele-D- Allegheny) directing the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to estimate how much revenue Pennsylvania could have collected by adopting a natural gas severance tax since February 2012 (sponsor summary) was reported out of Committee by a party-line vote, Republicans opposed.  Rep. Causer said the resolution does not require a complete evaluation of the issue, including all the economic contributions made by the shale gas industry.

-- Alkaline Hydrolysis Cremation: House Bill 1172 (Daley-D-Montgomery) expanding the use of alkaline hydrolysis cremation (sponsor summary) was unanimously reported out of Committee with a recommendation it be referred to the House Commerce Committee.

-- Skip The Straw: House Resolution 119 (Krueger-D-Delaware) designating June 1, 2023 as “Skip The Straw Day” in Pennsylvania (sponsor summary) was reported out of Committee by a party-line vote, Republicans opposed because Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), Minority Chair, said it was “silly.”

-- Require Hydrogen HUB To Sequester Carbon To Receive Tax Credit:  House Bill 1215 (Vitali-D- Delaware) requires hydrogen producing companies to sequester a larger proportion of carbon emissions to receive a tax credit under state Act 108 (sponsor summary) was not considered by the Committee.

The bills reported out of the Committee now go to the full House for consideration.

Click Here to watch a video of the meeting.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: gvitali@pahouse.net. Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5075 or by sending email to: mcauser@pahousegop.com.

Related Articles - Environmental Justice:

-- House Budget Hearing: Acting DEP Secretary Outlines His Views On Environmental Justice, Announces Fernando TreviƱo As Special Deputy For Environmental Justice  [PaEN]

-- Feature: 60 Years Of Fracking, 20 Years Of Shale Gas: Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Industrial Infrastructure Is Hiding In Plain Sight  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: PA’s Natural Gas Boom - What Went Wrong? Why Does It Matter?  What Can We Do Better To Protect Public Health?  [PaEN]

-- New State Health Plan Identifies Health Issues Related To Natural Resource Extraction, Climate Change In Top 5 Threats To Health Outcomes; No Update On University Of Pittsburgh Oil & Gas Health Impacts Study  [PaEN]

-- DEP Environmental Justice: State Dept. of Health, CDC Launch Environmental Public Health Tracking Program  [PaEN]

-- Ohio/PA Train Derailment, Pipeline Explosions, Uncontrolled Releases Put Spotlight On Public Health, Safety Threats Posed By Petrochemical, Natural Gas Industrial And Pipeline Infrastructure In PA   [PaEN]  

-- Oil & Gas Industry Has Record Year: Cost, Criminal Convictions Up; $3.1 Million In Penalties Collected; Record Number Of Violations Issued; Major Compliance Issues Uncovered; Evidence Of Health Impacts Mounts  [PaEN]  

PA Oil & Gas Public Notice Dashboards:

-- MarkWest Liberty Midstream Files To Clean Up 10,000 Gallon Natural Gas Condensate Spill Caused By December’s Winter Storm Elliot Freeze In Washington County  [PaEN] 

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - June 3 to 9:   Plugged Conventional Well Frack-Out; 10 More NOVs For Abandoning Conventional Wells  [PaEN] 

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - June 10   [PaEN]

-- DEP Posts 51 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In June 10 PA Bulletin  [PaEN] 

Related Article This Week:

-- House Committee Reports Out Bill Requiring The Evaluation Of Cumulative Impacts Of Some New Pollution Sources On Communities Already Burdened By Pollution; And Other Bills  [PaEN]

-- Republicans, Shale Gas Industry Oppose House Bill Requiring The Evaluation Of Cumulative Impacts Of Some New Pollution Sources On Communities Already Burdened By Pollution  [PaEN]

-- Senate Environmental Committee Info Session On Carbon Capture Discusses Job Potential; Reaching Net-Zero Carbon Goal; Impacts/Risks Of The Technology; PA’s Poor Track Record In Regulating Pipelines, Oil & Gas Industry  [PaEN]

-- Better Path Coalition: June 22 Virtual Brown Bag Briefing With Laurie Barr On Abandoned Conventional Oil/Gas Wells  [PaEN] 

-- Inside Climate News: Abandoned Conventional Oil/Natural Gas Wells Emit Carcinogens, Other Harmful Pollutants In PA, Study Shows  [PaEN]

-- Federal Court Declines To Prohibit PA Environmental Hearing Board From Hearing Appeals Of DEP Permits Issued For Regional Energy Access Expansion Natural Gas Pipeline Project  [PaEN]

-- Residents, Environmental Groups Rally Against Shell Petrochemical Plant's Pollution In Beaver County  [PaEN]

-- Senate Republicans Pass Bill Taking ‘Protection’ Out Of The Name Of Department Of Environmental Protection; But DEP Doesn’t Have To Change Its Signs Until They Wear Out  [PaEN]

-- Citizens Voice Editorial: ‘Protection’ Still Core Of DEP’s Job  [PaEN]

[Posted: June 6, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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