Thursday, April 19, 2018

Joint State Govt. Commission Concludes PA Environmental Laws Adhere To Federal Standards, Or Are Justified By A Compelling Interest

The Joint State Government Commission Thursday released a report on whether Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and regulations are more stringent than federal requirements as required by the Senate Resolution 385 (Brooks-R-Crawford).
The report reviews the primary state and federal laws covering clean air, clean water, natural resources use and conservation, waste management and recycling and the safe handling of hazardous materials.
The report concluded, “(M)ost of Pennsylvania’s environmental law statutes adhere to the federal regulations and are generally no more stringent than their federal counterparts. Where additional regulations have been made, it is generally justified as a compelling and articulable Pennsylvania interest and addresses definable public health, safety or environmental risks.
“In some instances, Pennsylvania regulations build upon and supplement federal law; in others, Pennsylvania has acted in areas not regulated by the federal government.”
In addition, the report points to the fact Pennsylvania’s constitution includes the Environmental Rights Amendment and spends several pages reviewing the impact of that amendment and related court cases, noting--
“(I)nterpretations of Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment (ERA) could result in regulations found to be in compliance with federal law and other Pennsylvania executive and legislative actions, but nonetheless violate the ERA.
“In such cases, Pennsylvania regulations may be required to be more stringent than federal law in order to be constitutionally sound.”
“In 1996, Governor Thomas J. Ridge issued an executive order [1996-1] that provides that state agencies may not exceed federal standards unless “justified by a compelling and articulable Pennsylvania interest or required by state law,” and must address “definable public health, safety, or environmental risks.”
“While as a general rule, Executive Order 1996-1 applies to all administrative regulations, this restriction can come into conflict with the recently reinvigorated Environment Rights Amendment (ERA) to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
“This new interpretation of the ERA could result in regulations that are in compliance with federal law and Governor Ridge’s order yet fail to meet constitutional muster. In such cases, Pennsylvania regulations will be required to be more stringent than federal law in order to be constitutionally sound.”
The report notes Pennsylvania acted to deal with many pollution issues before the federal government enacted its own laws.  The report says--
“Pennsylvania enacted some of its most significant environmental laws and municipal ordinances before the federal government became involved in environmental protection. To the extent required by federal law, Pennsylvania has amended its statutes to come into compliance.
“In some instances, Pennsylvania has adopted regulations that are more stringent than federal standards as well as regulations in areas that are not covered by federal law or regulations.
“These are usually justified by the unique geology, topography, and hydrology of Pennsylvania. In some instances, Pennsylvania has acted at the state level and preempted municipal regulation; in others, more stringent municipal ordinances are permitted and/or encouraged.”
Click Here for a copy of the full report.

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