Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Senate Republicans Pass Bill To Significantly Narrow The Grounds For Appealing DEP Environmental Permit Actions

On June 21, Senate Republicans voted 28 to 22 to pass
Senate Bill 198 (Bartolotta-R-Washington) that would significantly narrow the grounds on which a citizen group or company could appeal DEP environmental permit decisions to the Environmental Hearing Board.

The bill would prevent a citizens group or anyone else from raising issues DEP missed or new information made available after a public comment period held on a permit application. 

Prior to final passage, the bill was specifically amended to prohibit any party from presenting “new evidence before the [Environmental Hearing] Board that was not part of the record of decision considered by the Department.

“Any party challenging the decision by the Department before the Board must demonstrate, by a preponderance of the [prior] evidence, that the Department committed an abuse of its discretion in denying or granting the permit application being appealed.”

The bill is part of a Republican initiative to eliminate delays in the consideration of environmental permits, in this case, significantly limiting the ability of citizens to challenge permits issued by DEP that are perceived to be part of these delays.

In reality, these appeals determine whether DEP and the permit applicant followed environmental laws and regulations in taking the actions they did.

When the bill was considered in the Senate Environmental Committee, Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Minority Chair, said, “"The Environmental Hearing Board plays a very important role in environmental regulation. 

“This bill prevents new information from being raised in the appeals process for permits issued, information that may not have been available at the time of a decision that could or should cause it to be reconsidered. 

“Limiting the scope of what can be considered on a permit appeal will not benefit the public nor improve the permitting process. 

“DEP is opposed to this bill and the Shapiro administration and the acting secretary of DEP have expressed a willingness and a desire to work on improving that process. 

“Let's work together with them to do just that.”

Unfortunately, that has not happened yet.

The Senate also passed Senate Bill 199 (Bartolotta-R-Washington) that requires members of the Board whose terms have expired to be reappointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. 

The bills now go to the House for consideration.

Related Articles:

-- Senate Environmental Committee Reports Out Bills Letting Polluters Decide When To Report Spills And CO2 Injection Well Primacy By Party-Line Votes  [PaEN] 

[Posted: June 21, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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