Thursday, October 16, 2014

PA Environmental Council Urges Governor To Veto Anti-Stream Buffer Bill

The PA Environmental Council sent this letter to Gov. Corbett Thursday urging him to veto House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) that many environmental groups say weakens DEP requirements for stream buffers in Special Protection Watersheds. The text of the letter follows—
Dear Gov. Corbett:
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (“PEC”), I am writing to ask you to veto House Bill 1565, which passed the General Assembly yesterday. This legislation, if enacted into law, would eliminate the existing requirement of a forested riparian buffer for new development requiring a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit in a High Quality or Exceptional Value watershed.
Given the innumerable societal and ecological benefits provided by riparian buffers, House Bill 1565, should it become law, could result in undesired consequences detrimental to the citizens and environment of Pennsylvania.
It is important to note that the existing buffer requirement is only triggered by the need for an NPDES permit in those limited watersheds, and therefore does not apply to existing landowners and their current land use. Further, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulations  already provide a long list of exceptions to the buffer requirement. This requirement can also be exempted through a waiver from the Department.
In her January 29, 2014 testimony before the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, Deputy Secretary for Water Management Kelly Heffner could not recall a single instance where such a waiver was denied. Follow up from the Department to the House Committee confirmed this as fact.
In other words, existing law already provides ample flexibility.
Enactment of this legislation could set the Commonwealth back with regards to anti-degradation requirements in special protection waters as well as to the federal requirements for riparian buffers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
The federal Clean Water Act (“CWA”) requires the restoration and maintenance of the “chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”  The CWA and regulations promulgated pursuant to the CWA require states to adopt water quality standards consistent with the requirements of the CWA.  
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.  
This anti-degradation policy especially applies to high-quality waters and to any activity that may cause degradation of a water body. Since the EPA has approved the Commonwealth’s anti-degradation policy, and Pennsylvania has designated water bodies as exceptional value and high-quality, House Bill 1565 could possibly be considered a revision of Pennsylvania’s water quality standards in violation of Pennsylvania’s EPA approved anti-degradation regulations and policy.  
Furthermore, riparian buffers prevent property damage and the expense of flooding, a constant issue for the Commonwealth over the past several years. Buffers also dramatically reduce stormwater management costs; help keep streams free of sediment; reduce the cost of treating water for potable uses; and in general, promote and sustain healthier communities. House Bill 1565 will serve to exacerbate those problems.
We urge you to veto this legislation.
Davitt Woodwell
President and CEO

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