Thursday, December 31, 2015

Op-Ed: Sneak Attack On Environmental Protection In Fiscal Code Bill

By Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee

Several provisions tucked in a budget related bill would set back environmental protection in Pennsylvania. One would cancel regulations related to natural gas drilling. Another would delay the Commonwealth’s effort to address climate change and a third would take money earmarked for energy conservation and direct it towards natural gas development.
The Fiscal Code is one of several bills necessary to effectuate the commonwealth budget. The bill’s contents should be limited to directing how budget money should be spent. Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania Senate has inserted three environmentally troublesome provisions in this year’s Fiscal Code (House Bill 1327 (Peifer-R-Pike).
The first would cancel regulations relating to conventional gas drilling (Chapter 78 surface regulations). These regulations would, among other things, provide stricter standards for spill reporting and clean up and require pre-drilling investigations to ascertain the existence of active or abandoned wells. Drilling into existing wells can result in groundwater contamination and other environmental damage.
These drilling regulations have been three years in the making, subject to twenty-four thousand public comments and twelve public hearings.
The second troublesome provision would delay the Pennsylvania implementation plan to reduce greenhouse emission from coal and gas fired power plants. This state implementation plan is required by recent EPA regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by about 32 percent by 2030. Power plants are the largest single source of greenhouse gas pollution in Pennsylvania.
A third troublesome provision in the Fiscal Code would transfer $12 million from the Pennsylvania Alternative Energy Investment Fund earmarked for high-efficiency buildings to natural gas infrastructure development.
The recent Paris climate agreement underscores the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and conservation. These Fiscal Code provisions would do just the opposite.
Not only is this bill bad public policy but it is also unconstitutional as violative of the single subject requirements of the Pennsylvania Constitution (Article III, Section 3).
House Bill 1327 has already been approved by the Senate and is poised to be considered by the Pennsylvania House. The House should reject this bill and Governor Wolf should veto it should it reach his desk.
Related Story:
Commonwealth Court Upholds Ability Of A Governor To Line-Item Veto Fiscal Code Bill

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