Thursday, September 29, 2016

Analysis: House, Senate Set Stage To Roll Back Decades-Old Environmental Protection Measures

Normally, Senate and House members try to do good things before they go before the voters, but this year seems to be an exception with respect to setting environmental policy with some members.
The Senate and House do not return to voting session again until October 17, but they have both set the stage to vote on measures to roll back decades-old environmental protection laws and programs on endangered species protection, more recent Marcellus Shale drilling regulations and environmental laws more broadly.
House - Endangered Species
Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) has filed amendments to Senate Bill 1166 (Stefano-R- Fayette) and Senate Bill 1168 (Eichelberger-R-Blair) now on the House Calendar to add unrelated language to reduce protection for endangered species during environmental permit reviews.
The language now in Senate Bill 1166 and Senate Bill 1168 would allow the Game and Fish and Boat Commission to set their own license fees.
The amendments: Senate Bill 1166-- A10257  and A10259 and to Senate Bill 1168--   A10260 and  A10258-- are similar to legislation Rep. Pyle introduced three years ago as House Bill 1576, but has not been reintroduced since.
Pennsylvania’s environmental programs have protected endangered species since 1974.
Click Here for background on the legislation.
House - Marcellus Drilling Regs
The House is expected to take up an amendment to be offered by Rep. Jaret Gibbons (D-Beaver) to House Bill 1391 (Everett-R-Lycoming) to rollback well site restoration, waste disposal reporting and freshwater construction standards now in DEP’s Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale drilling regulations.
Amendment A09804 is a gut-and-replace 7-page amendment that would gut House Bill 1391, which deals with the unrelated oil and gas well landowner royalty issue, and slip in regulatory language repealing Chapter 78a provisions (page 5 & 6 of the amendment).
The PA Environmental Council wrote every member of the House Thursday expressing concern about the language saying it would also limit DEP’s ability to protect public resources from impacts by both conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells.
PEC pointed out DEP’s drilling regulations went through “the most extensive public review process in modern history” and are set to go into effect in the next few weeks.
PEC called the attempt to add regulatory language to a royalty bill “non-germaine and inappropriate.”
Rep. Gibbons is the Democratic Chair of the House Oil and Gas Caucus.
Senate - No More Stringent Than Federal Law
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Tuesday voted to approve and report out Senate Resolution 385 (Brooks-R-Crawford) directing the Joint State Government Commission to identify environmental laws and regulations more stringent than federal law.
The resolution was amended to extend the deadline for the study from 12 to 18 months.
Only a vote by the Senate is needed to direct the Joint Commission to undertake this study, not the House.  The Senate is expected to take up the measure when they come back on October 17.
While the intent is to develop a list at this point, it is clear some legislators want to use that list as a first step to rolling back environmental protection in Pennsylvania because they believe state regulations are more stringent than they need to be.
In fact, when the resolution was introduced, Sen. Brooks said, “While most certainly all of us understand the importance of our environment, this resolution is intended to find balance through practical application of the laws and regulations and at the same time permit economic growth and job creation.  Hopefully, this can be a first step in pinpointing current laws and regulations that impact hardworking citizens and businesses and make Pennsylvania more competitive in attracting new businesses.”
There is no provision in the resolution for the Joint State Government Commission to look at why a law or regulation was enacted to be more stringent in the first place or how effective the requirements have been in protecting the environment and public health.
Many of the environmental laws enacted by Pennsylvania over the decades were actually laws that were enacted first by the state for specific reasons, i.e. air pollution causing 20 deaths in Donora, massive fishkills on the Susquehanna caused by mine discharges, clear cutting all of Pennsylvania’s first growth forests, having gas wells turn garden hoses and faucets into flame throwers, open waste dumps, sewage polluting groundwater and streams, etc.
This is true of the state air pollution, surface mining laws, brownfields redevelopment laws, waste disposal, water quality, and many more.
Following the models developed by Pennsylvania and other states, the federal government later adopted similar laws, but often they were watered down by politics at the federal level.
Of course there are other situations where there are state laws, but no corresponding federal laws.  Does that mean the state law is out because there is no federal standard?  
This is true of programs like radon (a known cause of cancer), mine subsidence, dam safety and encroachments (our basic water quality program), Act 537 onlot sewage facilities law, storage tank and spill prevention, stormwater management act, laboratory accreditation, household hazardous waste, waste tire recycling, water and wastewater system operators’ certification requirements; and the list goes on.
The resolution also does not call for the involvement of the public in any way in the process, unlike in review efforts undertaken by DEP in the Regulatory Basics Initiative starting in 1996 as a result of Executive Order 1996-1.
In this common sense and transparent initiative, the Executive Order did not call for the automatic rollback of state environmental regulations to federal standards where they are more stringent as referred to in the resolution.
The Order says clearly where state law requires more stringent measures or there is an articulable Pennsylvania interest, more stringent regulations can certainly be adopted.
The goal of the Executive Order was to have more effective regulatory programs at a reduced cost of compliance for those affected by them.
The Department of Environmental Protection undertook a systematic review carried out over several years through the by working through a transparent process with DEP’s advisory committees on section by section reviews of regulations and technical guidance.  
The result of that effort was saving individuals, businesses and local governments $138 million in compliance costs, the elimination of nearly 5,000 pages of outdated regulations and more than 1,700 pages of unneeded technical guidance and 29 packages of regulatory changes.
In contrast, the language in Sen. Brooks’ co-sponsor memo says she wants to use this study to “pinpoint” current laws and regulations and rollback those protections with no analysis, no public involvement or even caring why they were enacted in the first place and no thought.
It is clear the words “find balance” and “make Pennsylvania more competitive” are code words for the continuing efforts by some members of the Senate and House to rollback Pennsylvania’s state laws protecting the environment and reducing state environmental programs to the lowest common denominator.
We need to approach these issues much more thoughtfully, with the real ultimate goal in mind-- protecting the environment and public health in the most efficient and effective ways.

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