Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Following Senate Approval, House Sends Anti-Stream Buffer Bill To Governor

By a vote of 118 to 79, the House Wednesday gave final approval to House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) that environmental groups say weakens DEP requirements for stream buffers in Special Protection Watersheds.  In September, the House passed an earlier version of the bill by the vote of 119 to 79.
The bill now goes to the Governor for his action.
House action Wednesday follows a vote by the Senate Tuesday which approved the bill by a vote of 27 to 22.
Prior to its final Senate action, Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, amended the bill to change the provisions of the bill to give applicants the option to install practices other than a stream buffer, but only if they can prove other practices are “substantively equivalent to” a stream buffer.
The amendment also changed the provision allowing the installation of a buffer in other areas, but “as close as feasible to the area of disturbance” to limit the replacement buffer to areas within the same watershed.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA wrote to members of both the Senate and House opposed to House Bill 1565 saying in part--
“Given the innumerable societal and ecological benefits provided by forested riparian and riparian buffers, CBF maintains that House Bill 1565 (P.N. 4258) is fundamentally flawed and could result in undesired consequences for Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Blueprint plan, which consists of the Total Maximum Daily Load and the State’s Watershed Implementation Plan, relies heavily on protecting and restoring forested buffers.  According to a recent assessment of Pennsylvania’s two-year milestones goals, it is estimated that the current rate of implementation of 6.44 acres of riparian buffers per day will need to be increased to 50.13 acres per day in order to meet the Commonwealth’s 2017 target for forested riparian buffers.  
“This bill will make the 2017 goal of 109,735 acres of forested riparian buffers more challenging since we will most likely begin losing existing forested buffers and forgoing opportunities to create new forested buffers that are absent of federal and state subsidies.  Failure to meet established Chesapeake Bay milestone goals could result in the use of backstops by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”).
“Passage of this legislation could set the Commonwealth back with regards to the federal requirements for riparian buffers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, as well as anti-degradation requirements in special protection waters.  
“The Clean Water Act (“CWA”) requires the restoration and maintenance of the “chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”  (CWA, 33 U.S.C. § 1251(a)).  The CWA and regulations promulgated pursuant to the CWA require states to adopt water quality standards consistent with the requirements of the CWA.  (CWA, 33. U.S.C. § 1313 and 40 CFR § 131.1, et seq.).  
“Once a state identifies the water quality standards of a particular water body, it may not change laws that maintain and protect those standards without a substantial and convincing justification and EPA review and approval.  33 USC § 1313(b)(4)(B); 40 CFR §  131.12.  This law is called the CWA anti-degradation policy and specifically applies to high-quality waters and applies to any activity that may cause degradation of a water body.  
“Since the EPA has approved the Commonwealth’s antidegradation policy found at 25 Pa. Code 93.4a, et seq., and PA has designated water bodies as exceptional value and high-quality, House Bill 1565 (P.N. 4258) could be considered a revision of Pennsylvania’s water quality standards in violation of Pennsylvania’s EPA approved antidegradation regulations and policy.  
“While CBF recognizes the attempts that have been made to improve House Bill 1565 (P.N. 4258), the language is ambiguous while the science is clear—there is simply no scientifically equivalent practice equal to forested riparian buffers.  
“Forested riparian buffers have been shown in large and growing number of scientific studies to be the best means of protecting and enhancing the quality of the biological, chemical, and physical habitat in rivers and streams, including in Pennsylvania.  
“And, any attempt to remove this requirement will impact water quality in our special protection waters.
“In fact, forested riparian buffers are so desirable that bills such as this should be set aside while we focus our efforts on legislation that supports clean water, such as Senator Rafferty’s bill, Senate Bill 1465, (P.N. 2256).
“We strongly urge you to support clean water and vote “NO” on House Bill 1565 (P.N.4258).”
Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Lackawanna), who supported the bill in the Senate, said, “'m not interested in paving the way for huge developments nor trying to punch holes in clean water. My interest is in giving relief to landowners who find they can not do improvements to their property costing jobs and opportunities that rural areas can ill afford to lose.
"This bill will allow science to be the key consideration in decision making rather than the map so one size doesn't fit all in the Commonwealth. We will be able to use best practices," Sen. Baker said, noting that the bill will not take DEP oversight away from on-lot septic, wetlands, or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit requirements.
She called the bill a "reasonable and responsible remedy" that "is fair and balanced."
House Bill 1565 has been opposed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA, PA Environmental Council, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the PA Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the Fish and Boat Commission, PA Chapter National Association of Water Companies, Clean Water Action, PA Council of Trout Unlimited, PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs,  PA League of Women Voters, PA Land Trust Association, PA Landscape and Nursery Association and former DEP Secretary David E. Hess.

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