Friday, October 28, 2016

Senate, House Finish Session With Flurry Of Action On Bills, No Action On DEP Secretary

The Senate and House Thursday finished voting on bills for this session (at least as of now), putting 55 bills on the Governor’s desk for his action.  Seven of those bills were related to environmental issues of one sort or another, some good, some bad and some missed opportunities.
Legislation to make it easier to safely destroy unwanted or unused prescription drugs, an extension of the Realty Transfer Tax exemption for conservation easements and increasing the effectiveness of Transit Improvement Districts made it to the Governor’s desk.
Unfortunately legislation that would allow the General Assembly to block regulations through its inaction (Gov. Wolf vetoed this bill Friday) and an extension of the PA One Call utility safety program without a provision including natural gas gathering lines are also on the Governor’s desk.
Also in the unfortunate category is Senate Resolution 385 adopted by the Senate last week which directs the Joint State Government Commission to identify environmental laws and regulations more stringent than federal law as a prelude, no doubt, for some legislator to rollback those laws.
The Senate did not take action on Gov. Wolf’s nomination of Patrick McDonnell as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, so the clock starts again on his nomination in January.
Here’s a quick summary of what did and did not happen.
On The Governor’s Desk
Final action was taken on legislation included--
-- Destruction Of Prescription Drugs: further providing for the safe destruction of unwanted or unused prescription and other drugs (House Fiscal Note and summary).
-- Land Conservation Easements: House Bill 2370 (Moul-R-Adams) among other provisions, the bill extends the conservation easement Realty Transfer Tax exemption (House Fiscal Note and summary).
-- Transit Improvement Districts: Senate Bill 385 (Pileggi-R-Delaware) further providing for Transit Revitalization investment Districts by, among other changes, establishing a TRID Fund to provide grants (House Fiscal Note and summary).
-- Reauthorizing PA One Call Law: extends the PA One Call utility safety program for another year, but without a provision to include natural gas gathering lines added by the Senate and opposed by conventional oil and gas drillers (House Fiscal Note and summary).
-- Public Utilities: Senate Bill 881 (Blake-D-Lackawanna) exempting from the definition of public utility a resort offering water or sewer service to private homes within a resort (House Fiscal Note and summary).
-- Guaranteed Energy Savings Contracts: House Bill 2107 (Baker-R-Tioga) among other provisions, it includes additional notice requirements for financial obligations and validation of budgetary sources of all energy-related cost savings (House Fiscal Note and summary).
-- Extended Review Of Regulations: Senate Bill 562 (Gordner-R-Columbia) amending the Regulatory Review Act to allow the General Assembly to block a regulation by inaction for no reason and prohibits an agency from publishing a statement of purpose for a regulation taking away the public’s right to know why a regulation is being adopted (House Fiscal Note and summary). (Gov. Wolf vetoed this bill Friday)
Bullets Dodged
The Senate and House did NOT take final action on several amendments and bills opposed by environmental groups.  They include--
-- Blocking Some Marcellus Shale Drilling Reg Changes: Provisions included in Senate Bill 1229 (Vogel-R- Beaver) and amendments set to be offered to the unrelated House Bill 1391 (Everett-R- Lycoming) would have rolled back well site restoration, waste disposal reporting and freshwater construction standards now in DEP’s Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale drilling regulations.  Both bills died in the House.  Click Here for more information. Earlier this month the Marcellus Shale industries filed suit in Commonwealth Court to block implementation of these parts of the regulation.
-- 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, but in ways that prevent timely updates.  The bill was opposed by several environmental groups.  The bill died in the House.
-- Endangered Species Protection: 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.  Neither bill was considered in the House and died.   The amendments were opposed by many environmental and other groups.    Click Here for more information.
-- Ban On Plastic Bag Fees: House Bill 1280 (Farry-R-Bucks) that would have prohibited a plastic bag ban, tax or fee was defeated on final passage 75 to 112.  No doubt this will be introduced again next year.
Hint Of Future Action?
Legislators often take advantage of the end of session to introduce bills they know will not go anywhere, but are hints that action may be taken on those issues next session.
Two of those bills-- one good, one bad-- were introduced this week--
-- Good: Water Quality Improvement Grants: Senate Bill 1401 (Alloway-R-Franklin, Corman-R- Centre) establishing the Water Quality Improvement Grants to support watershed restoration projects funded by a water resource use fee.  A Senate hearing on October 19 clearly found agreement on the need to find more resources to address Pennsylvania’s water quality problems and the obligation to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay.  A coalition of Senators also introduced bipartisan legislation recently-- Senate Bill 1374-- to establish a Growing Greener III program.  In the House, legislation has also been introduced to establish a water use fee and to study the development of a fee to fund water quality improvement projects.
-- Bad: Bion Bailout Bill: House Bill 2430 (Tallman-R-Adams) would create a Nutrient Credit Trading Program in law that has taxpayers paying for the credits instead of the existing program where credits are bought and sold between those generating credits and those needing credits without taxpayer involvement. These transactions take place in a framework administered by PennVEST. The sponsor summary says ALL investments now made by the state in farm conservation BMP installation, stormwater and wastewater compliance would be diverted into this new program.  Almost identical legislation-- Senate Bill 724-- introduced earlier this session was opposed by agricultural and environmental groups.
January is a new year, and the beginning of a new legislative session.  
It will be a great opportunity to make the focus of 2017 restoring water quality in our over 19,000 miles of polluted waterways to help celebrate the 80th anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law, the basic state law that protects water quality in the Commonwealth.

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