Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Budget: Never Have So Many Labored So Much For So Little, Wolf Vetoes Entire Budget

Senate and House Republicans Tuesday send state budget bills, a liquor privatization, pension reform and a Fiscal Code bill implementing their budget to the Governor.  Almost immediately, Gov. Wolf said he would veto the Republican budget “in its entirety,” including the General Fund Budget and the Fiscal Code bills.
He said he is going to take a closer look at both the liquor privatization and pension reform bills before he takes action.
Gov. Wolf said,”I am truly sorry that we are at this place….Republican leaders have just said no… I’m sticking to my broad goals.”  He invited legislative leaders to a meeting Wednesday to begin the process of really working on the budget.
He said the Republican budget would result in a $3 billion deficit.  “The math just doesn’t work-- Two plus two does not equal five in the real world.”
The Republican budget, he said--
-- Does not invest adequately in education;
-- Does not enact a natural gas severance tax; and
-- Does not give property tax relief to seniors and families.
The bills included--
-- General Fund: House Bill 1192 (Adolph-R-Delaware) Senate/House Republican General Fund budget was passed by the House 112-77 and the Senate concurred in House amendments by a vote of 30 to 19.  A Senate Fiscal Note and summary are available.
-- Fiscal Code: Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh) Fiscal Code amendments designed to implement the budget, fund projects wanted by legislators and insert legislative language wanted by members into law.  A House Fiscal Note and summary are available.
-- Education Code: House Bill 762 (Roe-R-Crawford) amendments to the Education Code required to implement the budget and making other changes.  A Senate Fiscal Note and summary are available.   A House Fiscal Note and summary are available.
-- Pension Reform: Senate Bill 1 (Corman-R-Centre) Senate/House Republican pension reform bill. A House Fiscal Note and summary are available.  An Actuarial Note and summary of the bill is available online.
-- Liquor Privatization: House Bill 466 (Turzai-R-Allegheny)House Republican liquor privatization plan was amended with the Senate/House Republican liquor privatization plan. A Senate Fiscal Note and summary are available.  A House Fiscal Note and summary are available.

DCNR Celebrating 20th Anniversary With New Outreach Tool

For the month of July, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of its creation with a digital education campaign to inform citizens about its mission and encourage more people to visit Pennsylvania's public lands.
"On July 1, 1995, a bill was signed into law that restructured the Department of Environmental Resources into two cabinet-level agencies – Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection," said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. "Although we had a long history of stewardship through our bureaus, the move made conservation and management of our natural resources a priority, and recognized the importance of our parks and forests to quality of life, tourism and our economy."
To celebrate, Dunn said the department is launching an Instagram account @padcnr, and will feature 30 days of unique posts about the agency on it using #DCNR20. Content also will be shared on Facebook at Pa. DCNR and Twitter through @DCNRNews.
Visitors to state parks and forests are encouraged to submit photos of their experiences on social media.
"Most people are familiar with our state parks and forests, but many may be surprised to learn DCNR also helps manage gypsy moths and other pests; creates geologic maps; designs buildings for our system; and provides technical assistance and grants to help communities with local parks and recreation," Dunn said.
Dunn noted that DCNR accomplishments over the past 20 years include:
-- Expanding the state park system to 120 – one within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian – and being recognized nationally as the best park system in country;
-- Becoming the first independently certified public forest in the nation, and the country's longest continuously certified, well-managed forest;
-- Awarding grants that have assisted all Pennsylvania counties and more than 50 percent of all communities – urban and rural – in meeting their recreation and conservation needs;
-- Created a conservation landscape program that is recognized as a national model for regional place-based landscape conservation;
-- Constructed 10 LEED-certified park and forest buildings;
-- Expanded the award-winning TreeVitalize community tree-planting and education program to communities across the state, planting about 400,000 trees;
-- Launched Get Outdoors Pennsylvania-guided programs to use outdoor recreation activities such as hiking, canoeing, and biking to engage new audiences and to create meaningful and lasting connections between the Commonwealth's citizens and its natural resources; and
-- Completed and continue to upgrade a high resolution aerial photography and elevation data for Pennsylvania used by all segments of government, industry and the general population.
"As part of Gov. Wolf's vision for government that works, the department continues to explore new tools to reach a broader and more diverse audience, attract them to our parks and forests and make sure that their experiences there include recreational opportunities and a stewardship message," Dunn said.
For more information on activities and programs, visit the DCNR website.

House, Senate Fall Schedule

When the General Assembly adjourns this week, the House is scheduled will return to voting session on August 25 and the Senate on September 21, unless sooner recalled.

June Environmental Synopsis Available From Joint Conservation Committee

The June issue of the Environmental Synopsis newsletter is now available from the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee featuring articles on--
-- Bee Colony Collapse Disorder
-- Cigarette Litter
-- Households Unclear On Where Their Energy Is Going
-- Geothermal Energy May Be Gaining Steam
-- EPA Releases Preliminary Results On Hydraulic Fracturing
-- Who Uses Zipcars? Urban Boomers, That’s Who
-- This Month In Conservation History
-- To get your own copy, send an email to: mnerozzi@jcc.legis.state.pa.us.
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) serves as Chair of the Joint Committee.

CBF-PA: Trees Are A Cool Solution To Water Pollution

By Harry Campbell, PA Executive Director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation

These arid days of summer aren’t so dogged, spent under the cool canopy of an old oak tree, a cold drink in hand, and a refreshing breeze on your face.
While looking for relief and grabbing some shade, we might pause to appreciate the health, economic, and esthetic values that trees add to our lives.
Planting trees as streamside buffers is one of the most affordable ways to reduce the harmful runoff of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment that pollutes Pennsylvania waters.
The Commonwealth is lagging well behind in its goals to reduce pollution of its streams and rivers and ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.
To get back on track, the Pennsylvania must reduce nitrogen pollution by an additional 14.6 million pounds, or 22 percent, by the end of this year.
Trees and their roots can filter as much as 60 percent of nitrogen, 40 percent of phosphorus, and nearly half of sediment in runoff. A single mature oak tree can absorb over 40,000 gallons of water per year.
Trees are the answer to multiple pollution reduction challenges in the Commonwealth. To meet its commitments by 2017, Pennsylvania must also add 22,000 acres of forest and grass buffers to Penn’s Woods. Another very tall task.
Streamside buffers also help reduce erosion, and provide shade, critical food, and shelter for wildlife. Trees stabilize stream banks and lower water temperatures which are vital to a thriving aquatic ecosystem.
Enhanced by the presence of trees, microbes and insects like caddisflies, stoneflies and mayflies in cool, wooded streams consume runoff nutrients and organic matter. Some native mayflies, for example, thrive at 68 degrees but perish at 70.
Native brook trout flourish in cool, clean water and are returning to streams where buffers have been installed.
Trees are also valuable around the home. When included in urban and suburban landscaping, trees absorb pollution and provide shade. A single large tree in the front yard can intercept 760 gallons of water in its crown, reducing stormwater runoff. The beauty of trees is evident in every neighborhood.
Trees provide benefits wherever they stand. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that one acre of forest can absorb six tons of carbon dioxide and put out four tons of oxygen, enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.
Trees have economic benefits. The U.S. Forest Service reports that healthy, mature trees add an average of 10 percent to a property’s value, and when placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent.
Native plants are preferred and more than 130 native tree species grow across Pennsylvania. Popular types include the oaks, hickories, maples, dogwood, red bud, sycamore, and honey-locust.
Late summer and early fall are optimum months to plant trees in order to take advantage of cooler soil temperatures and the ability of trees to establish strong root systems.
In the meantime, enjoy the shade. Summer is the ideal time to consider new plantings and how and where more trees will make our lives better.

Online Tool Highlights Westmoreland County’s Natural Resource Protection Projects

Rain gardens, stream bank fencing, and stabilized roadways are some of the natural resources protection projects, known as best management practices, that are featured in Westmoreland Conservation District’s new online Best Management Practices Portfolio.
The portfolio, located on the District’s website, currently highlights 25 different projects that are on the ground and working to benefit water quality in the region.  
Visitors to the site can read about best management practices for stormwater management, watershed restoration, dirt and gravel roads, and agriculture, and can view striking photos of these projects.  
The portfolio is a living document and will be updated as more projects are completed throughout the county.  The District hopes that visitors to the site will be inspired by the projects and choose to adopt some of the best management practices highlighted in the portfolio.
The BMP portfolio was funded by a Department of Environmental Protection Education Grant.
For more information, visit Westmoreland’s Best Management Practices Portfolio webpage.

Tuesday PA Environmental NewsClips

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Monday, June 29, 2015

PA Environmental Council Objects To Bill Killing Conventional Oil, Gas Well Regs

The PA Environmental Council Monday wrote to all members of the Senate Monday urging them to remove a section of the Fiscal Code bill-- Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh)-- that invalidates the regulations DEP proposed to ensure conventional oil and gas wells protect the environment and makes DEP start the process over.
The House added the language to the bill late Sunday night and passed it Monday by a vote of 107 to 87.
The text of the letter follows--
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, we are asking members of the Pennsylvania Senate to remove rulemaking prohibition language in Senate Bill 655 (P.N. 1137) relating to conventional oil and gas operations. This prohibition does not belong in the state fiscal code, is against the public interest, and potentially violates the single subject rule of the Pennsylvania Constitution.
With Act 13 of 2012, the General Assembly passed, and Governor Corbett signed, environmental protection standards applicable to both conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations. Since that time, the General Assembly, through last second inclusion in state budget legislation, has made efforts to walk back protections applicable to conventional operations despite clear and growing evidence that such operations pose ongoing risks and liabilities to the public and environment.
If the General Assembly wants to revisit standards relating to conventional operations, it should do so openly in dedicated legislation where its members and the public are given fair and full opportunity to participate and comment on the merits of the proposal. Using fiscal code legislation as a vehicle violates the public trust. It may also violate the state’s Constitution.
Last week the Pennsylvania courts issued a determination in the consolidated Sears challenge that questioned the ongoing legality of using state budget legislation to advance non-fiscal ends. We believe that inclusion of an environmental rulemaking prohibition in Senate Bill 655 is precisely the type of action the Court is contemplating when it references logrolling concerns underlying Article III of the Constitution.
We ask that you give the people of Pennsylvania full and fair opportunity to participate in the legislative process, and to remove the rulemaking prohibition in Senate Bill 655. We will also call on Governor Wolf to veto this legislation if it passes in current form.  
Thank you for your consideration.
-- John Walliser, Vice President, Legal & Government Affairs, PA Environmental Council

Water System Conference, Celebrating 20 Years Of Partnership For Safe Water Oct. 28-30

The PA Chapter of the American Water Works Association will host the 2015 Water System Optimization Conference October 28-30 In Hershey.  Click Here for more information on the Conference agenda and registration information.

PA Environmental Council Receives $1.5M Grant From William Penn Foundation

The PA Environmental Council Monday announced it has received a $1.5 million grant from the William Penn Foundation for support of development of the Circuit trail network in Bucks, Delaware, and Philadelphia counties.
The funding, spread over two years, will enable PEC to focus on portions of the East Coast Greenway, a trail stretching from Florida to Maine that is also a critical link in completing the 750-mile Circuit.
“The William Penn Foundation’s commitment to completion of the Circuit is doubly significant because of the trail work itself, and the importance that this network has to the Philadelphia region,” PEC Executive Vice President Patrick Starr said. “The Foundation’s most recent grant continues its commitment to ensuring alternative transportation for Philadelphians.”
Currently, 300 miles of the Circuit are open for use, while 400 remain to be built. Working with a variety of partners, PEC has been a key factor in the creation of the Circuit as a policy leader and as an implementer of trails.
In particular, PEC has been involved with the planning and implementation of one of the Circuit’s trunk lines—the East Coast Greenway—for more than a decade. The Circuit itself was formally announced in May 2012. The grant period runs from July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017.
The grant also enables PEC to start the process of linking the Circuit with trail development that has occurred and continues to grow in the Northeastern part of the state.
The ability to engage in additional endorsement of trail development and further advocacy and leadership in statewide trail initiatives throughout Pennsylvania is a principal goal of PEC’s 2015 Strategic Program Plan.
It is PEC’s aim to connect the people of the Commonwealth to the outdoors and educate them about the state’s rich natural resources while engaging them in environmental stewardship and advocacy. The continuation of the Circuit is a practical way for Pennsylvanians to explore, experience, and enjoy Pennsylvania’s diverse outdoor resources.
“PEC is a leader in trail planning and promotion statewide, and this grant further solidifies that fact,” PEC President and CEO David Woodwell said. “It is PEC’s goal to get Pennsylvanians outdoors and in touch with the Commonwealth’s astounding natural resources to engage citizens in the protection and restoration of the environment.”
As part of its statewide trail initiative, PEC is also a member of the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition, a group of 20 organizations in Western Pennsylvania, Eastern Ohio, Northern West Virginia, Western Maryland, and Southwestern New York working to complete and connect a system of 1,600 miles of share use trails.
Now 53 percent complete, the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition includes the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail that hosts over 800,000 trips annually and generates over $40 million in direct annual spending from its trail users.
PEC’s vision is that by 2033, the 53-county region will be positioned as the epicenter of a multi-use trail system in the region.
For more information on activities and programs, visit the PA Environmental Council website.

PUC Releases New Guide To Consumer Complaint Process

The Public Utility Commission Monday released a new Consumer Complaint Procedures Guide, designed to educate consumers about the Commission’s complaint process. An additional quick reference sheet, “Know the PUC Complaint Process and Your Options,” also offers handy instructions about how to file a complaint with the PUC.
“These resources are intended to address common questions that are encountered when filing a complaint against a utility,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “For example, it is important for consumers to understand that they should first contact their utility if they are experiencing a problem, and that the PUC acts as an intermediary between the customer and utility. This is one of the most common areas of confusion that we see when consumers reach out to our Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS) to file a complaint.”
The consumer guide and quick reference sheet are available on the PUC’s website. They detail the differences between filing an informal versus a formal complaint; provide an explanation of the complaint filing process; and include information on how to find important forms online.
From January through June, the BCS has received approximately 45,000 consumer inquiries, and, of those, approximately 30,000 cases have become informal complaint investigations. The Commission has received 1,122 formal complaints since January.

Monday PA Environmental NewsClips

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

House Committee Votes To Kill Regulations Covering Conventional Oil and Gas Wells And Start Over

In the House Appropriations Committee late Sunday night, Republicans  adopted an amendment to the Fiscal Code in Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh) that invalidates the regulations DEP proposed to ensure conventional oil and gas wells protect the environment and makes DEP start the process over.
The language in the amendment said the process used by DEP to propose the regulations was “invalid” with respect to conventional wells, but the language could be interpreted to also apply to unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells since they both used the same process stopping that process as well.
The same tactic-- amending the Fiscal Code-- was used last year by conventional well drillers to direct DEP to adopt separate regulations for conventional and unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells.
The Fiscal Code has been a convenient vehicle used by the Senate and House to adopt laws that do not go through any committees, not subjected to public hearings and are not voted on by either chamber.  
In fact, the language and concept of killing regulations for conventional well drillers added to Senate Bill 655 didn’t even not appear in any Senate or House bill before it suddenly appeared Sunday night.
Last week, PA Independent Oil and Gas Association filed a lawsuit challenging DEP’s regulations saying “natural gas developers protect public resources through voluntary measures” and other environmental law.  
PIOGA ask the PA Supreme Court to eliminate DEP’s enforcement of setbacks from streams, wetlands and other natural features as well as protection of public resources like parks, game land or wildlife area, protect endangered species, historic sites and wellhead protection areas.
The conventional well drillers try, at every opportunity, to perpetuate the myth that conventional drill is “benign” and doesn’t affect the environment.
In fact, in 2014, conventional oil and gas well operations accounted for nearly 78 percent of the total violations DEP recorded for conventional and unconventional drilling operations, but just over 52 percent of the inspections.
DEP also has a running list of 248 cases where DEP has made a determination on whether water supplies were contaminated by oil and natural gas drill from 2008 to 2014.  About half of the water supplies were damaged by conventional drilling and half by unconventional, according to DEP.
Of the 19 special caution areas with poisonous hydrogen sulfide dangers DEP has identified and dealt with over the last few years, 14 were from conventional wells.
DEP began the process of proposing oil and gas regulations in response to the passage of Act 13 in 2013, nearly two and a half years ago.  DEP held an unprecedented 12 public hearings on the proposals as well as lengthy public comment periods.
A copy of the amendment is available online.
Senate Bill 655 now goes to the full House for action, and if successful, must be concurred in by the Senate.

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