Friday, August 30, 2013

Sept. 2 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Sept. 2 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

House Committees Hear Significant Opposition To Endangered Species Legislation
House Bill 1576 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) which would standardize the state process for designating species of fish, wildlife or plants as threatened or endangered, as well as for designating waters as wild trout streams, was the subject of a hearing Monday by members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee, along with members of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, according to Rep. Jeff Pyle the bill’s prime sponsor.
The would fundamentally change the review and designation of threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania and would immediately drop hundreds of species from environmental permit reviews, regardless of the significant amount of data supporting their consideration.
“We are simply asking for sufficient burden of proof that a species is truly endangered or under a threat of extinction,” Rep. Pyle said. “Not all state agencies are required to play by the same rules when it comes to these designations, and my bill would essentially level the playing field.”
House Bill 1576 would require both the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission to go through the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the related House and Senate committees when attempting to list a species as endangered. Currently, only the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is required to make the designations by regulation.
Rep. Pyle’s bill, also known as the Endangered Species Coordination Act, comes in reaction to a local school district building project that is situated in a habitat for a species of endangered bat. With no option for appealing the designation, the district chose to pay more than $61,000 into a conservation fund over the possibility of abandoning the project or being forced to find a new home for the bats.
“No one questions the ability of a government agency to render a decision or the possibility of a species being in danger,” Rep. Pyle added. “I am simply asking every agency empowered with the ability to carry out an action that, in this case, has the potential to significantly impact the economy of a community to have a second set of eyes review the decisions it makes.”  
“This is no different to any person who receives a medical diagnosis and seeks out a second opinion,” stated Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams). “We trust our government agencies, and this bill is nothing more than asking them, in the interest of openness and transparency, to provide evidence that backs up their decisions.”
Any species currently listed as threatened or endangered would be required to go through the IRRC process within two years of the effective date of House Bill 1576, in order to justify its continued designation of that species. The bill also requires DCNR to maintain a database of species designated as threatened or endangered.
[Note: At the hearing, Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) prime sponsor of the bill said the section setting criteria for threatened or endangered species should not have changed the range of species definition and the words “in Pennsylvania” should have been included in the bill language.]
Copies of Testimony
Some of the testimony presented during the hearing is available online--
Second Hearing
The Committee Majority Chairs, Reps. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) and Ron Miller (R-York), announced that details on a similar hearing to be held in western Pennsylvania will soon be announced.
Opposition To The Bill
Letters of opposition to the bill were submitted by the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission, PA Council of Trout Unlimited and the PA Environmental Council.  Click Here for more information of the opposition of the Commissions and Trout Unlimited.  Click Here for PEC’s letter of opposition.
Op-Ed: Fate Of PA Endangered Species At Risk

Friday NewsClips

Krancer Calls Endangered Species Bills Sensible Changes
Click Here for PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

EQB Approves Proposed Update Of Drilling Regulations For Public Comment

The Department of Environmental Protection today announced the Environmental Quality Board voted 16 to 2 to approve proposed regulation changes to strengthen environmental protection performance standards associated with oil and gas drilling activities.  The changes were required by Act 13 drilling law passed in 2012.
The proposed changes were approved over the objections of the industry-dominated Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board which said the regulations were not yet ready for public review.  
The two negative votes at the EQB were from Burt Waite, who sits on the Oil and Gas Advisory Board, and William Fink, an environmental manager with a Bedford County farming operation.  Both sit on the EQB as representatives of the DEP Citizens Advisory Council.
This proposed rulemaking reflects significant input from statewide environmental organizations, local government groups, residents living near well sites and industry representatives who have met with DEP over the last two years to share their expertise in shaping this proposal.
The department has recommended increasing the public comment period for the proposal from the normal 30-day timeframe and holding one public hearing, to a 60-day comment period with at least six public hearings across the state to gather as much public input as possible.
“Through Gov. Corbett’s leadership, Pennsylvania is proving that economic opportunity does not have to occur at the expense of environmental stewardship,” Acting DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said. “We are working hard to ensure that natural gas development is done according to the high and consistent standards Pennsylvanians expect.”
This proposed regulation furthers the department’s implementation of the tasks it was assigned by the General Assembly under Act 13 of 2012. Corbett signed Act 13 on February 14, 2012, and the law represents the first comprehensive update and strengthening of the state’s oil and gas laws in nearly 30 years.
The draft regulation includes provisions further enhancing the consideration of impacts to public resources, such as parks and wildlife areas; the prevention of spills; the management of waste; and the restoration of well sites after drilling.
Additionally, the draft rulemaking also includes standards affecting the construction of gathering lines and temporary pipelines, and includes provisions for identifying and monitoring abandoned wells close to well sites.
“This proposed regulation includes comprehensive amendments that are designed to reduce potential environmental impacts from oil and gas activities,” Abruzzo said. “I personally want to thank the EQB for their support in moving this historical package forward.”
The draft regulation will be reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office and the Office of General Counsel. After the offices’ review, there will be a 60 day comment period and six public hearings will be scheduled to hear public comments on the proposed changes.
Details on where comments can be submitted on the draft rulemaking will be provided when the proposal is published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and on DEP’s website. The dates and locations of the six public hearings will be announced by the EQB in the near future on the website and through a news release issued by the department.
For more information, visit DEP’s special Oil and Gas Regulations webpage.

Tuesday NewsClips

Panels Take Testimony On Endangered Species Protection
Click Here for PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

Monday, August 26, 2013

PEC Expresses Opposition To Bills Changing Endangered Species Protection

The PA Environmental Council today expressed its opposition to House Bill 1576 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) which would fundamentally change the review and designation of threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania.
PEC also said the bill would immediately drop hundreds of species from environmental permit reviews, regardless of the significant amount of data supporting their consideration.
The bill is the subject of a joint hearing today by the House Game and Fisheries and Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in Pottsville.
PEC’s opposition is in addition to letters of opposition submitted by the Game Commission, Fish and Boat Commission and the PA Council of Trout Unlimited.  (Click Here for more information of their opposition.)
The text of PEC’s letter to Committee members follows--
“On behalf of the membership of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), I am writing to express our opposition to House Bill 1576. This proposed legislation will be the subject of a joint Committee hearing on August 26th.
“House Bill 1576 would, if enacted, fundamentally change the review and designation of threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania, and would work counter to the many challenges it purports to address.
“Review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) would be less meaningful than an already established, scientific and public process. Both Commissions utilize independent and peer-reviewed data in considering the listing of species, provided through uniform criteria established by the Pennsylvania Biological Survey. The IRRC does not have scientific expertise or standards to evaluate species listing proposals.
“Both Commissions are already required, in listing or de-listing species as threatened or endangered, to do so in accordance with the Commonwealth Documents Law which requires publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and opportunity for public review and comment – including submission of additional data. Both Commissions also follow the Sunshine Act and the Commonwealth Attorneys Act in this process.
“House Bill 1576 proposes review criteria divorced from meaningful and Pennsylvania-specific scientific analysis. For example, in establishing parameters for evaluating the range of a potential threatened or endangered species, Section 5(b) appears to set a numeric test against indefinite criteria (“significant portion”). This provision discounts the status of a particular species within the boundaries of the Commonwealth, and thus the intent of Pennsylvania species protection itself. Furthermore, this standard will require the Commissions to conduct data analysis over a much more extensive geographic range – adding to time and expense.
“House Bill 1576 Would Place Additional Time and Expense Burdens on the Commonwealth. By requiring the re-nomination and approval of already-listed species within two years, House Bill 1576 would impose a time and cost prohibitive burden on the Commonwealth. If one of the driving concerns behind this proposed legislation is encouraging prompt and efficient response, saddling the Commissions with such an unprecedented workload will only serve to exacerbate the issue.
“House Bill 1576 Could Encourage More Federal Involvement in Species Protection. One of the criteria utilized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in determining whether to pursue listing of a species is the sufficiency of state resource protection laws. By curtailing the authority of the Commissions, this proposed legislation could prompt a more active federal role in species protection. In addition, this proposed legislation could jeopardize federal funding for the Commissions, further limiting their ability to work efficiently and effectively in the Commonwealth.
“Conclusion. While there are surely ways to improve transparency and informational sharing to avoid adverse impacts to species and allow approvable projects to be completed, these goals can be accomplished without this overreaching legislation. Based on the provisions of House Bill 1576 hundreds of species will be immediately dropped from environmental permit review, regardless of the significant amount of data supporting their consideration.
“We commend the Committees for holding hearings on House Bill 1576, and we encourage you to consider the full ramifications of what this proposed legislation could ultimately mean for the natural and recreational communities of Pennsylvania. This proposed legislation would place a tremendous burden on the Commonwealth when better, collaborative solutions remain available.
“Thank you for your consideration, John Walliser, Vice President Legal & Government Affairs, PA Environmental Council.”
A copy of PEC’s letter is available online.

Accessibility Day For Wounded Warriors, Families At Pinchot State Park Sept. 7

Kayaking, biking, fishing and other outdoor activities don’t have to be off-limits for Pennsylvania’s wounded service members and veterans, thanks to a special event from the Pennsylvania Parks & Forests Foundation and Gifford Pinchot State Park in York County.
“Pinchot Outdoors Day - The Outdoors is for Everyone!” is a free day for service members and their families to try accessible forms of recreation, improve their skills and enjoy Pennsylvania’s great outdoors.
The military outdoors day will be held on September 7, at Gifford Pinchot State Park in the Conewago Day Use area from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
PPFF President Marci Mowery says, “Parks and forests are a great way to connect with family and friends and have also been shown to improve health and reduce stress. We wanted to support the men and women who have served by creating a day of fun and creating memories.”
Mowery says she believes this wide-ranging event will be the first of its kind at a state park in Pennsylvania, and hopes to make it an annual affair.
Activities include handcycling, adaptive kayaking, fly fishing, disc golf, hiking, yoga, children’s games, painting, therapy horses, outdoor photography, campfire cooking, nature journaling, geocaching, rowing and more.
Experts in accessible recreation, such as the Two Top Mountain Adaptive Sports Foundation and Heroes on the Water will be on hand for instruction and support. Participants are also welcome to bring their own gear.
In addition to the activities there will be demonstrations by service and search and rescue dogs and presentations on outdoor safety, hands-on activities and games for children and more than 20 exhibitors. Exhibits range from outdoor recreational opportunities to benefits information that might be of interest to attendees.
The event is made possible in part by support from the Department of Community and Economic Development and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and through the support of various local businesses.
For those who wish to get involved, volunteers are still needed for various jobs at the event. Last minute exhibitors are also welcome to contact the Foundation about participating.
For information, visit PA Parks & Forests Foundation website or check out the Foundation’s  Facebook page.

Monday NewsClips

Bills To Change Endangered Species Law Trigger Debate
Click Here for PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

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