Friday, October 14, 2016

Environmental Issues In Play During Waning Days Of Senate, House Session

The final six scheduled voting days before the election, and the end of this legislative session, will start October 17, so whatever the House and Senate want to get done will have to happen in the next two weeks.
After that, all bills die and have to start over in January.
There is potential action on several environmental issues, including: endangered species, Marcellus Shale drilling regulations, on the state’s approach to environmental laws generally, the state’s Uniform Construction Code, automatic DEP erosion control permits, making it easier to destroy unused and unwanted drugs, opening State Parks to commercial development, deer management policy and natural gas pipeline safety.
Of course, there’s always the chance for big surprises, just like happened during the last few budget seasons.  For example, language from a stand-alone bill can easily be added to another “Christmas tree” bill with a hodgepodge of other provisions.
Here’s a partial list of some issues that may be in play--
-- 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.  The bill 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 final Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale drilling regulations.
Amendment A09804 is a 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 several Chapter 78a provisions (page 5 & 6 of the amendment).  
Rep. Gibbons is the Democratic Chair of the House Oil and Gas Caucus.  Click Here for more background.
The Senate also passed Senate Bill 1229 (Vogel-R-Beaver) in July that would rollback the same provisions in DEP’s regulations.  The bill is now in the House Rules Committee on a concurrence vote.
In a related action Thursday, the Marcellus Shale Coalition filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to block implementation of DEP’s Chapter 78a regulations for issues similar to those raised in the amendments.
-- House - Automatic OK Of DEP Erosion Control Permits: Another amendment posted for consideration to House Bill 1391 (Everett-R-Lycoming) by Rep. Jason Ortitay (R-Allegheny)-- (Amendment A09798)--  would require automatic approval of DEP erosion and sedimentation control permits if the applications were submitted by a licensed engineer, regardless if they actually meet Chapter 102 requirements.  Click Here for more background.
-- House - Opening State Parks To Commercial Development: In July the House defeated attempts to open State Parks to commercial development by a vote of 123 to 77.  However, House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler) could be brought up again at any time for a final House vote.  Click Here for more background.
-- House - Return To Unscientific Deer Management Program: House Bill 2083 (Maloney-R- Berks), which would return the Game Commission to an unscientific approach to deer management by creating a new Independent Forest and Wildlife Advisory Council to manage deer by the maximum sustained yield method (sponsor summary), was reported out of the House State Government (not Game and Fisheries Committee) on September 26 and Tabled.  It could be brought up for a vote at any time.
-- Senate - No More Stringent Than Federal Law:  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 is is now on the Senate Calendar for action.  It only takes one vote in the Senate to make this happen.  No House action is required.  Click Here for more background.
-- Senate - Uniform Construction Code: House Bill 568 (Evankovich-R-Allegheny) which would change the way the state’s Uniform Construction Code is updated, including energy conservation measures, is now in the Senate Rules Committee, back from the House on a concurrence vote.
The PA Environmental Council, Delaware Valley Green Building Council and the Pittsburgh Green Building Alliance have expressed concerns about the bill saying its provisions significantly delays the updating process and the benefits of more efficient new construction.  Click Here for more background.
-- Senate - Nomination Of Patrick McDonnell As DEP Secretary: On September 21, Gov. Wolf nominated Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell to be the permanent Secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection. McDonnell has filled that post since the May 20 resignation of John Quigley. The nomination requires an up or down vote by the Senate.
-- Making It Easier To Destroy Unwanted Drugs: With Senate and House leaders and Gov. Wolf focused on addressing issues related to the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, taking steps to prevent prescription drug abuse, like promoting collection events for unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs, is part of the solution.
Gov. Wolf noted in his address to a Joint Session of the Senate and House on September 28 there are 520 take-back boxes located at police stations across Pennsylvania, and these efforts have collected and destroyed over 145,000 pounds of prescription drugs, including opioids.
The language in House Bill 1737 (Maher-R-Allegheny), now in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, would make it much easier to permanently dispose of unused and unwanted prescription drugs.  Click Here for more background.
As it happens, October 22 is DEA’s National Drug Take-Back Day.  Click Here to learn more about collection events in Pennsylvania.
-- End Exemption From PA One Call For Natural Gas Gathering Lines: The Senate passed Senate Bill 1235 (Baker-R-Luzerne) that would end the exemption from PA One Call, the call before you dig program, for natural gas gathering lines (Senate Fiscal Note and summary) on September 27.  The bill is in the House Consumer Affairs Committee.
The Public Utility Commission is supporting the bill, but the conventional oil and gas drillers represented by the PA Independent Oil and Gas Association (the same group that killed DEP’s conventional drilling regulations) opposes the bill.
The entire PA One Call law is due to sunset on December 31, 2016 without final action by the House and Senate.
Rep. Bob Godshall (R-Montgomery), Majority Chair of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, has his own bill-- House Bill 2308-- that would simply extend the program for one year.
Six more days, what will the Senate and House do on environmental issues?  Stay tuned, we’ll find out soon.
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