Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Acting DEP Secretary McDonnell Reported With Unanimous, Favorable Recommendation From Senate Environmental Committee On Confirmation

Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell Tuesday was unanimously reported from the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee with a favorable recommendation for confirmation as Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
The nomination now moves to the full Senate for action.  Click Here to read McDonnell’s opening statement. Click Here to watch a video of the hearing.
Prior to that action, McDonnell answered questions for an hour before the Committee, many the same kinds of questions he was asked during budget hearings in March.
Among the issues covered were--
-- Chesapeake Bay Cleanup: Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Committee, said there are some bitter pills Pennsylvania will need to swallow with respect to the state’s obligations to cleanup the Chesapeake Bay and asked for an update.  McDonnell said Pennsylvania’s solution to this issue must be much different than other Bay states.  As an example he noted Lancaster County has twice as many dairy cows as the entire state of Maryland. He said they are taking a number of steps to address these issues across the board. The bottomline is this program needs additional resources to deal with this issue.
In response to a question from Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), McDonnell said the state spends about $185 million on the Bay program, but with some additional budget proposals, that funding could increase.
McDonnell said the proposed elimination of the federal Chesapeake Bay Program funding would be a real problem.  Beyond that, proposed cuts in federal primacy programs where the federal government pays states to administer federal environmental programs would hurt those programs.  About 30 percent of DEP’s budget is federal funds.
-- Safe Drinking Water: Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Committee,  asked how DEP is reacting to the EPA suggestion to seek temporary funding to get staff on board sooner to deal with deficiencies in the Safe Drinking Water Program. McDonnell said he directed staff to identify any resources that may be available to support adding some additional staff to the program ahead of fee increases going to the regulatory process.
-- Methane Controls On Oil & Gas Operations: Sen. Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) said he has heard concerns about the General Permits designed to control methane emissions from oil and gas operations could result in a moratorium on drilling.  McDonnell said DEP is in the middle of a comment period on General Permits designed to control methane emissions.  He said his goals are to have a workable permit and a permit that could be turned around in 30 days.  McDonnell said he wants to make sure staff training and the other review procedures are in place to get the permits done.
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) said he believes the General Permits amount to regulations that impose obligations on the industry.  McDonnell said DEP has authority to develop General Permits under the state Air Pollution Control Act for decades.  There are currently 19 types different air quality General Permits.  If there were no general permits, McDonnell said the industry would be subject to full air quality permits which would be a more complicated process.
In response to a question from Sen. Kim Ward (D-Westmoreland), McDonnell said the origin of the methane control requirement was the adoption of a methane standard by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which Pennsylvania must implement.  McDonnell noted methane emissions did go down last year.
-- Conventional Drilling Regulations: In response to a question from Sen. Yaw, McDonnell said the department is in the early stages of developing updated conventional oil and gas well regulations working with a PA Crude Development Advisory Council.  McDonnell said it has also been a good forum to work on other issues, like how to deal with Pennsylvania’s up to 200,000 abandoned wells.
-- Regional Coordination On Pipeline Projects: Sen. Yaw expressed a concern about coordination between regions on projects like pipelines that cross DEP regional office boundaries.  McDonnell said he has created a new unit to better manage projects like pipelines to address those issues.
-- Indiana County Injection Well: In response to a question from Sen. Don White (R-Indiana) about the injection well permit issued for drilling wastewater in Grant Township in Indiana County and citizen concerns, McDonnell said the PA Crude Development Advisory Council is looking at the issue of other ways to dispose of brine water from oil and gas drilling.  He noted much of the drilling wastewater is recycled in the state or taken to out-of-state disposal wells.
-- Nutrient Credit Trading: In response to a question from Sen. Martin, McDonnell said DEP has a nutrient credit trading program, but there is now an opportunity to stack benefits for watershed projects related to stormwater management in particular.
-- Forest Buffers: In response to a question from Sen. Hutchinson, McDonnell said Act 162 laid out specific language that spelled out a landowner’s options for installing forested buffers where the prior law authorized certain waivers which now do not exist. (Click Here for more information.)
-- Erosion & Sedimentation Permits: Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) expressed concerns about the turnaround times for erosion and sedimentation permits, in particular differences in processing times between DEP regional offices.  McDonnell said everyone looks for the one thing that fixes everything, and it is more complicated.  He said DEP has had roundtables with permit applicants and consultants to identify issues and solutions.  He noted DEP is developing a general water permit for projects of five acres and less that came out of these meetings.  Another part is better training for staff and sharing successful permit review processes between regions.  McDonnell said DEP will also be expanding its electronic permitting framework to other programs, in addition to mining and oil and gas.
Click Here to read McDonnell’s opening statement.  Click Here to watch a video of the hearing.
McDonnell was named Acting DEP Secretary in May 2016.   Prior to serving as Acting Secretary, Mr. McDonnell served as director of policy for the Department, where he oversaw the agency’s regulation and policy development processes.
In addition, Mr. McDonnell ran the State Energy Office and was charged with coordination of renewable energy and energy efficiency issues.
Prior to returning to DEP, Mr. McDonnell was executive policy manager for former Commissioner Pamela A. Witmer of the Public Utility Commission, focusing on electric, natural gas and water issues as well as cybersecurity and the impact of environmental regulation on energy markets.
Previously, Mr. McDonnell spent 13 years with DEP in a variety of roles. As deputy secretary for administration, he managed the budget, human resources, information technology and oversaw the facilities management functions of the agency.
He also previously served as policy director and as an assistant to the special deputy secretary. He began his career at DEP working in the State Energy Office on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building projects.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: gyaw@pasen.gov.   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: yudichak@pasenate.com.
Related Stories:
House DEP Budget Hearing: Safe Drinking Water, Permitting, Pipelines, Chesapeake Bay

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