Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rep. Metcalfe: PA Leaders That Adopted Susquehanna River Basin Compact Were Incompetent, Negligent Or Corrupt

The House State Government Committee held an informational meeting Wednesday to discuss earlier hearings on what Majority Chair of the Committee Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) said was regulatory overreach by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.  
Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) provided introductory comments saying earlier hearings showed municipalities, water companies and others are unhappy with the fees and requirements adopted by SRBC and even, in some cases, fearful.
[Note: There was no information presented that backed up the claim, like a survey or other more comprehensive review by the Committee or anyone else, beyond the few presenters that appeared before the Committee at hearings.]
Rep. Moul said small private, for-profit water companies are not getting the same discount on SRBC permit fees like publicly owned water companies when they are already covered by a DEP permit, especially for water withdrawals from groundwater wells serving these systems.  These costs and permits are redundant he felt.
[Note: SRBC gives a 40 percent reduction in fees for publicly-owned systems, has taken steps to streamline its permit process and created a Public Water Supply Assistance Program to provide technical assistance to small systems.]
[Note: SRBC regulates the quantity of water withdrawn from ground or surface water sources and is specifically authorized to do so by the Susquehanna River Basin Compact in Article 11.  DEP regulates the quality of water.]
Rep. Moul said he would recommend getting SRBC out of the business of regulating withdrawals from groundwater owned by property owners. He said there is no good science for determining how much water is in a aquifer in the first place.
[Note: There are long-standing, science-based, accepted practices and testing methods applied in Pennsylvania, nationally and internationally and among professional geologists for calculating groundwater availability.  Since 1971 SRBC has also accumulated lots of data on groundwater availability through its permitting process in the Susquehanna Watershed.]
Rep. Moul also recommended the General Assembly approve any fees and regulations adopted by the SRBC.  SRBC, he said, has $68 million in the bank and yet SRBC goes for fee increases.
[Note: SRBC, like all public agencies, offers multiple opportunities for public review and comment on regulations, including hearings and public meetings, with notices in the PA Bulletin and Federal Register and through many other vehicles.  
[The Commission is an interstate agency established after the member states adopted its Compact which was then ratified by a vote of Congress.  It has representatives of Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland as well as the federal government on its board.
[Note: A fact sheet provided by SRBC to the House Committee said the balance in its General Fund was $9.6 million of which only $32,521 was not assigned to specific purposes or expenses to support the operations of the Commission.
[The fact sheet notes the separate Water Management Fund, which is funded by consumptive water use fees (not permit fees) which public water suppliers are exempt from paying, has a $26.3 million balance.  This Fund cannot be used for general operating purposes.  It can only be used to develop, operate and maintain needed infrastructure associated with water storage projects to supplement river flows during times of drought.
[A Sustainable Water Resources Fund has an $8 million balance and is supported by settlement, penalties and fees on natural gas water withdrawals (not permit fees) and is used to support a network of water quality monitoring stations to help assess drilling impacts on water quality.]
Rep. Moul said the Compact says SRBC cannot duplicate the functions of any state agency.  He said one option the General Assembly has is to give some of their functions to a state agency.  He said he does not want to do that, he would rather use “honey” to solve these problems, “but I have a truck load of vinegar” if we need it.
Rep. Francis Ryan (R-Lebanon) said that water taken by authorities and other groundwater users under property owners without wells and regulated by SRBC are actually devaluing the value of property of those owners without compensation and wondered aloud whether property owners should ask to have their property reassessed for tax purposes.  
“SRBC is taking away our liberty,” he said.
Rep. Ryan also said he would like to see an independent auditor audit SRBC’s books.  The state Auditor General and his staff, he said, should not be considered an independent auditor since he is subject to the political process.
Rep. Kristin Hill (R-York) said she would like to see efforts continue to legislatively mandate an audit of SRBC by the state Auditor General [in the Fiscal Code bill-- House Bill 453].
[Note: On Tuesday SRBC invited the Auditor General to audit SRBC’s finances and performance.  The SRBC’s letter to the Auditor General notes SRBC does have its accounts audited by an independent auditor and it is also under auditing oversight of the U.S. General Accounting Office and the Compact allows each signatory party to examine and audit the Commission’s financial affairs.]
Rep. Pam DeLissio (D-Montgomery) said she would like the Auditor General to be able to audit the General Assembly’s budget and spending [which is now prohibited by law].
Rep. Hill said she is disturbed by the fact the SRBC is not subject to the state Right-To-Know Act and Sunshine Act and other requirements like state agencies are.  
Rep. DeLissio said the SRBC adopted its own Records Request/Freedom of Information Policy in 1979 and recently updated that policy.
[Note: The SRBC provides public notice of all of its business meetings and hearings in the PA Bulletin and the Federal Register, in addition to on its website, Twitter feed and other avenues.]
Rep. Matt Gabler (R-Clearfield) said the SRBC “infringes on the ability of citizens to pursue the American dream.”
Rep. Cris Dush (R-Indiana) said, “we fought a Revolution to overturn tyranny of unchecked government, like SRBC represents.”  “We don’t need any oversight by an agency that is outside the constitution, we should void this Compact,” he added.
Rep. DeLissio said her view is the SRBC is operating within the authority of its Compact, while there may have been some individual cases that raise questions, not all of the facts are available yet.
She said she is still waiting for information from some small water systems who provided comments to the Committee on what the actual impact SRBC costs have had on water rates.
Rep. DeLissio said she believes there is an opportunity to improve communication between SRBC and the entities they regulate.
Rep. Metcalfe said the members of the General Assembly who originally adopted the Susquehanna River Basin Compact were either incompetent, negligent or corrupt-- “Who’s palms were getting greased to adopt this Compact?”
He said the Compact gave Pennsylvania too little representation on the Commission when the state represents most of the watershed and the state is expect to pay 37 percent of the costs of the SRBC.
[Note: The Compact was introduced in 1967 in the Pennsylvania House by Rep. Orville Snare (R-Blair) and in the Senate by Sen. Z.H. Confair (R-Bradford) as Senate Bill 479, which was ultimately the bill that became law.
[The House Majority Leader in 1968 was Rep. Lee A. Donaldson, Jr. (R-Allegheny) and the Senate Majority Leader was Sen. Stanley G. Stroup (R-Bedford).
[Senate Bill 479 was passed by a Republican Senate by a vote of 32 to 10 and a Republican House by a vote of 146 to 45, with 12 not voting.
[The Compact was signed into law in Pennsylvania on July 17, 1968 by Republican Gov. Raymond P. Shafer as Act 181.
[The Compact was signed into law by Republican President Richard Nixon on Christmas Eve 1970 and became effective 30 days later on January 23, 1971.  Pennsylvania’s Republican U.S. Senator Hugh Scott was U.S. Senate Minority Leader at the time.
[The Compact was championed in Pennsylvania by Dr. Maurice K. Goddard, Secretary of Forests and Waters and soon to be the first Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources, the first modern state environmental protection agency.  He also founded Pennsylvania’s State Park system and is a legend in Pennsylvania conservation history.
[Interesting side note, Republican Maryland Gov. Spiro Agnew signed the Compact into law in that state and Republican New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller signed the Compact into law there.
[Click Here for a history of the Compact produced for the 40th Anniversary of the Commission.]
In her comments, Rep. DeLissio referenced the responses to questions from previous hearings submitted by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to the Committee.  Here are those responses--
Click Here to watch a video of the meeting.
Rep. Metcalfe said there will be another meeting on the SRBC overreach issue August 16 starting at 10:00 in Room G-50 of the Irvis Office Building.
The complete agenda has not been set, but Rep Metcalfe said the Office of Open Records has agreed to attend.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: dmetcalf@pahousegop.com.   Rep. Matthew Bradford (D-Montgomery) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: mbradford@pahouse.net.
(Photo: Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).)
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1 comment :

  1. Metcalfe thinks any type of environmental protection is rife with fraud and corruption, inasmuch as he's owned by the polluters who keep him in office.

    ReplyDelete

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