Thursday, January 22, 2015

DEP Citizens Advisory Council Completes Transition Report To New DEP Secretary

DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council Wednesday completed work on a Transition Report to the incoming Wolf Administration and DEP Secretary on environmental issues facing Pennsylvania and the Department of Environmental Protection.
Part 1 of its Transition Report was adopted in November and made recommendations on broad areas of concern like leadership, DEP’s aging workforce, improving management information technology systems, budget issues facing DEP, renewing public trust in the agency, using advisory committees more effectively, rebuilding bipartisan support for environmental programs and multi-state regional cooperation.
Part 2 of the report adopted this week covers eight issue areas: Natural Gas Severance Tax; Climate Change; Water And Wastewater Infrastructure Challenge; Abandoned Mine Reclamation Funding; Chesapeake Bay Cleanup; Sewage Facilities Planning And Regulation; Water Well Construction Standards; and State And Federal Relations.
Some of the recommendations included in Part 2 of the Transition Report are:
Natural Gas Severance Tax
— Funding for local communities to deal with the environmental, infrastructure and social issues of shale drilling and for county conservation districts must be retained in any new tax proposal, but with further accountability of how that funding is spent.  The CAC was disappointed to learn from the Public Utility Commission which collects the existing impact fee that half of the local governments receiving the fee did not file the required report on time detailing how the monies were spent.   
— A significant portion of the revenues from natural gas production should go first to environmental and restoration programs, since the tax is based on the mineral wealth of Pennsylvania’s natural environment.  
— The severance tax collected from shale wells now on State Forest lands should be invested in the restoration and management of State Forests and State Parks, not placed in the General Fund or used to fund personnel and other administrative costs associated with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Climate Change
—Renew emphasis on the development and implementation of a coordinated and thorough Commonwealth Energy Plan by dedicating the necessary resources and executive level personnel to support such a plan.  
— Reinvigorate the Climate Change Advisory Committee under the DEP and devote more resources to climate change issues.
— Seek better coordination between DEP, the Public Utility Commission, and other state entities to inform and improve decision-making with respect to energy choices.
— Advance new goals for renewable and distributed energy production by updating the AEPS, and through innovative financing or tax incentives for deployment of renewables and distributed generation.   
— Better account for environmental impacts of existing energy development in our state, and suggest concrete policy strategies for avoiding or mitigating those impacts.
Water And Wastewater Infrastructure
-- Review the recommendations made by Gov. Rendell’s Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force and make implementing them a priority.
-- Recognizing that federal and state budgetary resources are constrained, the CAC notes the critical need for renewed investments in our water-related infrastructure.  
Abandoned Mine Reclamation Funding
-- With the authorization for federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Funding ending in 2021,  the Wolf Administration should be engaged in the process of reauthorizing this critical part of Pennsylvania’s reclamation program.
-- Develop a comprehensive abandoned mine reclamation strategy that incorporates and maximizes the effective use of federal and state public funds, private industry and local watershed groups.  As part of developing this strategy, there should be a review of private liability for discharges if companies take over sites they are not responsible for so the rules are clear and predictable.
Chesapeake Bay Cleanup
-- Establish a senior-level position within DEP’s Water Management Deputate who will work directly with EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Program on the Bay’s Model and how it can be expanded to include other BMPs that are voluntarily implemented on Pennsylvania farms.
-- Utilize existing programs and services to address the needs of the Chesapeake Bay (i.e. the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service’s aerial monitoring of Pennsylvania farms to account for the implementation of BMPs).
-- Establish a third-party independent, non-regulatory auditor that will inspect, verify, and report to EPA the BMPs implemented on Pennsylvania farms in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
Sewage Facilities
-- Allow the use of tested and proven “alternate technology” system in onlot sewage planning.
-- Conduct a comprehensive review of the Act 537 sewage program.
-- Work with stakeholders in a more effective manner to develop and implement changes to the sewage program.
Water Well Construction Standards
-- Support legislation to set construction standards for private water wells.
State and Federal Relations
-- Open communication both inside DEP in raising potential federal compliance issues to senior management early, and in discussing possible alternative approaches that make sense for Pennsylvania with EPA.
-- Expand efforts at fostering regional cooperation with other states to share solutions to common problems, to develop cooperative solutions, and to strengthen our hand in negotiations with EPA and the other federal partners.
A copy of Part 2 of the Transition Report will be posted on DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council webpage in the near future.  Part 1 of the Transition Report is already posted.

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