Monday, April 30, 2018

House Debates, Does Not Change Republican Bills Putting Politics Ahead Of Science & Law In Protecting The Environment

The House Monday considered over 50 amendments to 5 Republican bills groups like the PA Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund said would threaten public health and put politics ahead of science and law in protecting the environment.
The bills give the General Assembly authority to kill regulations by doing nothing and creates new bureaucracies taking permit reviews away from DEP, puts a cap on the number of regulations, requires the elimination of two regulations for every new one adopted and sets up a procedure to waive penalties for violations.
Almost all the amendments failed by a party line vote-- Republicans opposing.  Those few that did pass made only minor changes to the legislation.
All the bills were referred to the House Appropriations Committee which will consider the bills Tuesday.  A final House vote on the bills is expected this week.
The bills include--
-- Killing A Regulation By Doing Nothing: House Bill 1237 (Keefer-R-York) authorizes the General Assembly to kill an economically significant final regulation from any agency by doing nothing was not changed after 30 tries to amended the bill to exempt critical regulations, like those dealing with environmental protection.
-- Taking Permit Reviews Away From DEP, State Agencies Giving It To Third Parties: House Bill 1959 (Rothman-R-Cumberland) Establishes the Pennsylvania Permit Act which requires agencies to create and develop a navigable online permit tracking system and takes authority to issue certain permits away from state agencies like DEP and creates a new bureaucracy of third-party reviewers was amended in minor ways on the House Floor. Click Here for more.
-- Cap On Number Of Regulations: House Bill 209 (Phillips-Hill-R-York): Establishes the Independent Office of the Repealer, a new bureaucracy to undertake an ongoing review of existing regulations; receive and process recommendations; and make recommendations to the General Assembly, the governor, and executive agencies for repeal.  It also places a cap on all regulations and requires agencies to delete two regulations for every new regulations agencies seek to adopt. It is modeled after policies adopted by the Trump Administration. None of the attempts to amend the bill succeeded.
--Waiving Penalties: House Bill 1960 (Ellis-R-Butler) which requires each agency to appoint a Regulatory Compliance Officer with the authority to waive fines and penalties if a permit holder “attempts” to comply was amended twice in minor ways on the House Floor.
-- Repeal Any Regulation By Resolution: House Bill 1792 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin) Gives the General Assembly the ability to repeal any state regulation in effect by a concurrent resolution by requiring a single vote in the Senate and House.  The process is modeled after a federal procedure used by the Trump Administration to repeal regulations (sponsor summary). Currently, the General Assembly can repeal any regulation by passing a new law which involves a more extensive committee review and several votes each by the Senate and House.  The bill was amended in minor ways on the House Floor.
PEC, EDF Comments
"(T)his suite of legislation will create greater uncertainty for regulations and permits, and unduly threaten public health and environmental protections by positioning politics ahead of science and law.  
"While the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund welcome open and objective discussion on improving agency and regulatory performance, these bills fall well short of those considerations.
"The General Assembly already has ample authority to review and act on regulations.
"In our view, the Commonwealth is better served by advancing inclusive, constructive dialogue on shared goals instead of legislation that will only foster further difficulty and disagreement.  
"For these reasons, we urge you to oppose these bills. We would welcome efforts by the General Assembly, with full participation by agencies and stakeholders, to establish constructive discussion and opportunities to better harmonize environmental protection."
The text of the letter follows--
Dear Representatives:
This week the House may vote on a suite of bills – House Bill 209, House Bill 1237, House Bill 1792, House Bill 1959, and House Bill 1960 – introduced in the name of government reform.
In truth, this suite of legislation will create greater uncertainty for regulations and permits, and unduly threaten public health and environmental protections by positioning politics ahead of science and law.  
While the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund welcome open and objective discussion on improving agency and regulatory performance, these bills fall well short of those considerations.
The General Assembly already has ample authority to review and act on regulations.
In our view, the Commonwealth is better served by advancing inclusive, constructive dialogue on shared goals instead of legislation that will only foster further difficulty and disagreement.  
Our specific objections to these bills are as follows.
House Bill 209 (P.N. 3162)  
This legislation establishes an “Office of the Repealer” whose charge is to provide independent review of existing regulations and statutes for potential elimination or amendment. However, this effort is ultimately directed by a committee of only three political appointees.
While we agree that there should always be opportunity to review and improve regulation, it should be done in a manner that is truly objective and inclusive, and that also seeks changes that improve public benefit.
As written, House Bill 209 does not meet those principles. Further, at least with respect to environmental provisions, there are already means to pursue amendment of regulations through the Environmental Hearing Board. The General Assembly has also shown, through legislation abrogating proposed rulemaking, that is already has sufficient ability to intercede.
House Bill 1237 (P.N. 2996)
This legislation requires passage of a concurrent resolution in the General Assembly before any “economically significant regulation” may become effective and implemented. In short, mere inaction of the General Assembly could negate a rulemaking required pursuant to existing state or federal statute or regulation.
This is an indefensible change to existing law, which already grants the General Assembly the ability to stop a rulemaking proposal. It could ultimately subject the regulated community to federal enforcement, and invite legal challenge on state constitutional grounds.
House Bill 1792 (P.N. 3168)
This legislation prohibits an agency from promulgating new or revised regulations when a concurrent disapproval resolution has been approved by the General Assembly – but irrespective of whether that resolution actually become law – unless new statutory authority has been enacted.
This is a questionable expansion of authority that perversely could inhibit attempts to improve or even moderate regulations. As we have said, the General Assembly already has established authority to accomplish the stated outcomes of this legislation.
House Bill 1959 (P.N. 3163)
This legislation contains provisions on permit reporting and transparency. While we fully support enhanced transparency and the sharing of information on agency activity and performance, House Bill 1959 contains language that would allow third parties to participate in permitting decisions without any standards with respect to qualification, preventing self-dealing, protection of public disclosure and involvement, or intrusion on agency authority.
The framework established by this legislation will only lead to vastly expanded litigation on permitting decisions. The General Assembly should instead prioritize ensuring that agencies have the resources needed to perform their mission and meet the needs of both the public and regulated community.
House Bill 1960 (P.N. 2861)
This legislation establishes agency regulatory compliance officers. Our concerns with this legislation is that it provides these individuals with the authority to legally interpret laws or regulations with respect to compliance, and to establish means that would waive fines or penalties for self-reported violations of the law without actual assurance that those violations are remedied.
These decisions, along with others contained in the bill, should be made only be appropriate authority within the agency.
While we support the concept of improving communications and understanding  between agencies and the regulated community, this legislation oversteps appropriate agency function and authority.
For these reasons, we urge you to oppose these bills. We would welcome efforts by the General Assembly, with full participation by agencies and stakeholders, to establish constructive discussion and opportunities to better harmonize environmental protection.
Thank you for your consideration.
Senior Vice President, Legal & Government Affairs  
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Director, Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, U.S. Climate and Energy
Environmental Defense Fund
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
Related Stories:

Proposed Bills Call For Narrowing Grounds For Appealing DEP Permits, Reducing Terms Of Environmental Hearing Board Judges

Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) Monday circulated a co-sponsor memo to her colleagues asking them to sponsor two bills, one to narrow the grounds for appealing a permit issued by DEP and the second to reduce the number of years Environmental Hearing Board judges can serve.
“The DEP’s decision to issue or deny the permit will be based on the record developed,” said Sen. Bartolotta.  “The difference now reflected in the legislation is that the standard for review by the Environmental Hearing Board shall be exclusively limited to the record of decision. Presently, appeals from all DEP decisions, including permit decisions, are subject to “de novo” [from the beginning] review by the Environmental Hearing Board.
“As a result of this legislation, the issued permits will be a better crafted product and companies will have confidence knowing their permits have been written to address any substantial, relevant questions pertaining to regulatory criteria raised during the public comment period,” said Sen. Bartolotta. “All interested parties will continue to be afforded the opportunity to comment on the permit application and the DEP will review these comments as part of its decision making process.”
[Note: Presently, there is no artificial limit on the information individuals and businesses can independently raise in appealing DEP permits, if they believe it is relevant.  
[Recall that appeals only come after any potential appellants see the final permit issued by DEP with any conditions which may or may not address issues raised during any public comment process.  
[The final permit and conditions may also raise new issues not covered in the original permit subject to a comment period.]
“The second piece of legislation will shorten the term period a judge serves on the Environmental Hearing Board’s membership from six to five years,” said Sen. Bartolotta.  “It also restricts judges from serving more than two terms unless they began by filling in for a vacancy on the bench.
“The term of any member of the board who, as of the effective date of this section, has served more than ten years on the board, will expire at the end of his/her current term.”
[Note: Presently EHB judges need to be renominated and confirmed by the Senate every six years as required by the Environmental Hearing Board Act.]
Click Here for a copy of the co-sponsor memo.

Gov. Wolf Backs New Bipartisan Severance Tax, Permit Reform, Minimum Royalty Bills; No Dedicated Funding For Environmental Programs

Gov. Tom Wolf Monday announced he is backing new bipartisan legislation establishing a natural gas production severance tax and addressing oil and gas permitting reforms and minimum royalty payments to oil and gas leaseholders.
The legislation--  Senate Bill 1000 (Click Here for a copy of the language) anHouse Bill 2253-- was announced with prime sponsors Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware), Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R-Bucks).
The proposed tax would raise an estimated $248.7 million next fiscal year and would hold harmless revenues from the existing Act 13 drilling impact fee at $200 million annually and the remainder would go to the General Fund.
There is no dedicated funding for environmental programs.
The well permitting changes would include those proposed in a permitting reform white paper issued in January by DEP-- authorizing permitting of multiple wells on one pad with one application, allow adjustments to the well bore location by up to 50 feet without permit amendments and eliminate the requirement a well be constructed in one year and replace it with a 3-year term.
“Since day one of my term as governor, I have fought to enact a reasonable severance tax that would give Pennsylvanians their fair share of the energy boom that is powered by resources that belong to all of us,” said Gov.Wolf. “I, along with this bipartisan coalition, am here to call on the House and Senate to pass these bills and get them to my desk so that they can become law and Pennsylvanians can begin to get the benefits that other states have had for years.”
“The measured severance tax and responsible permitting reforms, embodied in Senate Bill 1000, is fair to taxpayers and unleashes the full potential of the natural gas industry to create jobs all across Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Yudichak. “I applaud Gov.Wolf who has brought together Republicans and Democrats around the central idea that a fair severance tax is essential to protecting the environment and leveraging broader job growth in the natural gas industry.”
Sen. Killion, who is prime sponsor of the Growing Greener III initiative-- Senate Bill 1374 (still pending in the Senate)-- expressed his appreciation and support for this new initiative which he said will benefit areas like his where there is no natural gas drilling, but where pipelines are being built to bring the natural gas to market.
[Note: Senators Killion and Yudichak were part of a bipartisan group of 11 Senators who last September urged the Senate to devote a portion of any natural gas severance tax to the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund.]
“This modest proposal strikes the right balance between asking drillers to pay their fair share and giving them room to grow and continue providing jobs and economic benefits to our state,” said Rep. O’Neill. “The added revenue to the Commonwealth will help us provide additional support to education, human services and environmental programs and more.”
“As Democratic Chairman of the House Finance Committee I am always working toward fair tax policy,” said Rep. Wheatley. “Pennsylvania shouldn’t be the only gas producing state in the country without a severance tax benefiting our communities and the needs of our state.”
Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Spigelmyer issued the following statement on the severance tax proposal--  “Gov. Wolf’s proposal for additional energy taxes will cost Pennsylvanians jobs, raise home energy costs for consumers, all while not helping a single student or school.
“Pennsylvanians want Gov. Wolf and their legislators to focus on creating good jobs that will make the Commonwealth a better place to invest and grow. They are tired of election-year political stunts and more tax-and-spend proposals that ultimately make Pennsylvania less competitive.
“Pennsylvania already has a natural gas tax that has generated nearly $1.5 billion in new revenue for our state. This tax, in addition to other state business taxes that our industry and their employees pay, delivers revenues directly to communities across the Commonwealth, making important community, environmental and conservation investments possible.
“Gov. Wolf claims to support energy workers and small businesses, yet he again proposes to smother this important growth sector with additional, job-crushing energy taxes.
“Rather than growing state government and appeasing public sector unions, Governor Wolf and policymakers need to focus on job creation, especially for our building trades and the manufacturing sector, in order to grow the economy.
“Harrisburg needs visionary leadership that advances the opportunities presented by the development of natural gas – not tired, misleading rhetoric that mischaracterizes the contributions of Pennsylvania job creators to our economy.”
(Photo: Reps. Wheatley, O’Neill, Gov. Wolf, Senators Yudichak, Killion.)
Related Stories:
PA Chesapeake Bay Commission Members Spotlight Need For Clean Water Fund In PA [January, 2017]

Republicans On House Committee OK Conventional Drilling Bill To Weaken Environmental Protections

The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Monday approved and reported out House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Forest), the Conventional Oil and Gas Act, to regulate conventional drilling operations based on the original 1984 Oil and Gas Act.
Republicans voted for the bill, Democrats and Rep. Becky Corbin (R-Chester) against. The Committee vote will be posted here.
Two amendments were ruled out of order by Majority Committee Chair Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny).
The Department of Environmental Protection, PA Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund and other groups opposed the bill saying it would be a wholesale weakening of necessary environmental protection standards for conventional oil and gas drilling and cause great harm to the environment and the public.
No public hearings have been held on either House Bill 2154 or the identical Senate Bill 1088.
The bill is scheduled for action by the full House Tuesday and is expected to move quickly.
Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1522 or sending email to:  Rep. Mike Carroll serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3589 or sending email to:

PJM Interconnection Announces Next Phase Of Grid Resilience Initiative

The PJM Interconnection regional electric grid operator Monday announced the next steps in its initiative to ensure future fuel security for electricity generation on its power system serving 65 million people.
Fuel security, defined by PJM as risks to the fuel supply and delivery to critical generators, is at the forefront of resilience, as a combination of public policies, lower fuel prices and technology improvements alter the traditional mix of generation resources serving customers.
The PJM grid remains reliable even with the resource retirements analyzed to date and investment in new, increasingly more efficient gas-powered generation sources.
While the grid also remains fuel secure given these changes, the potential for continued evolution of the fuel mix underscores concerns, raised by PJM in a March 2017 report, about the need to examine the long-term resilience of the grid.
In the 2017 report, PJM's Evolving Resource Mix and System Reliability, PJM concluded that the system could remain reliable with the addition of more natural gas and renewable resources, but that "heavy reliance on one resource type" raises potential resilience risks beyond existing reliability standards.
To address longer-term questions of fuel security, PJM will initiate a process, starting immediately, to analyze fuel security vulnerabilities and establish criteria to assess areas in the PJM system that could face future fuel security issues.
The criteria will be the means to value and price fuel security. Those criteria could then be incorporated into PJM's existing market mechanisms to promote competition among different resource types to meet any fuel security needs in a particular location, with reforms to be in place for next year's capacity auction, if necessary.
"Competitive markets remain the best mechanism to maintain a reliable and fuel secure system at the lowest reasonable cost to customers," PJM President and CEO Andrew L. Ott said. "We have the ability to identify risks to the system and to put a value on resources that offset that risk."
The process will involve three phases:
-- Identify system vulnerabilities and determine attributes such as on-site fuel requirements, dual-fuel capability or others that ensure that peak demands can be met during extreme scenarios.
-- Model those vulnerabilities as constraints in PJM's capacity market, similar to existing transmission constraints, allowing for proper valuation of needed attributes in the market.
-- PJM will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, states, stakeholders and others to ensure that the results are consistent with identified security needs in the PJM footprint, including service to key military installations and other identified security concerns.
The intent of the vulnerability assessment is to stress-test the system under various fuel supply disruption scenarios, to better understand potential future reliability concerns.
PJM anticipates completing the study within the next six months, and the results will be discussed with PJM stakeholders, including state and federal agencies.
Click Here for available information on the new process.
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the PJM Interconnection website.
Related Story:

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner