Friday, September 21, 2018

Waning Days Of Senate, House: Environmental Bills We’re Watching, Good And Bad

The General Assembly returns to session Monday, September 24 for 9 scheduled voting days in the Senate and 8 voting days in the House before the November 6 election.
While it is unlikely that any bills just starting their legislative journey will be adopted by the Senate and House and get to the Governor’s desk, the more likely scenario is bills that are halfway through may get the votes to go all the way.
Any bill that does not receive final action dies on November 30 at the end of session and has to start over in January.
Bills PA Environment Digest is watching that could see final action before the election include--
-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling - House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Cameron), which would weaken environmental standards for conventional oil and gas drilling, was passed by the House in a rush in June and is now in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  The Senate is being strongly lobbied by the industry to get the bill to the Governor’s desk.  Environmental groups are united in their opposition against the bill. Click Here for more.
-- Regulatory and Permitting "Reform" Bills - In May the House passed a 5 bill package of regulatory and permitting “reform” bills that would effectively hamstring the adoption of regulations by state agencies, including environmental regulations, and allow private consultants to take over review of DEP permits.  Click Here for more.
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 and not passing a concurrent regulation to approve the regulation.  The bill is in the Senate Rules Committee.  (House Fiscal Note and summary.)
This legislation is similar to a bill-- Senate Bill 561 (DiSanto-R-Dauphin)-- passed by the Senate on June 13 last year by a party-line vote (Republicans supporting) allowing the General Assembly to kill regulations by doing nothing.  The bill is in the House State Government Committee.
  -- 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. The bill is in the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee.  (House Fiscal Note and summary.)
There was no mention of the fact the General Assembly and Governors have cut DEP General Fund money going to DEP by 40 percent over the last decade with the resulting loss of over 25 percent of its staff.  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. The bill is in the Senate Rules Committee.   (House Fiscal Note and summary).
  --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 is now in the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee. (House Fiscal Note and summary.)
  -- 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 is in the Senate Rules Committee.  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.  (House Fiscal Note and summary.)
  -- Senate Wildcard: Senate Bill 1231 (Brooks-R-Crawford), which would require an automatic review of “economically significant” regulations every three years moving forward, was introduced in August and is now in the Senate Rules Committee (sponsor summary).  This bill could be fast-tracked.  
-- Critical Infrastructure Protection: Senate Bill 652 (Regan-R-Cumberland), which would make it a felony to simply trespass on the right-of-way of pipelines, electric power lines, railroad tracks, refineries or on the property of any of 21 other “critical infrastructure facilities” outlined in the bill passed the Senate in May.  It grew out of a concern to not have a repeat of the mass demonstrations that accompanied the Dakota Access Pipeline. Members in the Senate expressed concerns about the bill infringing on First Amendment rights. This bill is now in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  Click Here for more.
Another bill-- Senate Bill 754 (Martin-R-Lancaster)-- that has not yet been considered by the Senate State Government Committee, tries to address the same issue by imposing the public costs for dealing with any “public assembly, meeting or gathering” entirely on the individuals doing the protesting.  Click Here for more.
-- Temporary Cessation of Coal Mine Operations - House Bill 1333 (Gabler-R-Clearfield), which would eliminating the current DEP limit on how long surface mine operators can temporarily cease mining operations from 180 days to the federal standard of what could be up to five years, is now in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  The bill has been opposed by environmental groups as opening a wide window for coal operators to abandoned sites without the appropriate safeguards.  Click Here for more.
-- Regulating Lawn Fertilizer - Senate Bill 792 (Alloway-R-Franklin), which would require lawn fertilizer applicators to be certified in application techniques and creates an education program on lawn fertilizer application, addresses a big hole in efforts to reduce polluted runoff from homeowner and other lawns.  The bill is now in the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee which held a hearing on the bill in June.  Click Here for more.
-- Opening Private Land To Recreation Liability - House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams), which would further extend liability protection for private landowners who open their property for recreation, has provisions beneficial to trail and other recreation groups.  Other changes have been suggested to the bill to better address issues related to bicycle and other trails, some of which have been incorporated.  The bill is now on the Senate Calendar for action.
-- Eastern Hellbender designation as state amphibian - An 18-month long student-led project to designate the Eastern Hellbender as the official state amphibian and clean water ambassador resulted in the Senate passing Senate Bill 658 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) last November, but the bill has remained in the House State Government Committee since then.  The students and many other groups and the public is pushing for final House action on the bill.  Click Here for more.
There are many other bills that will be moving in the Senate and House, so keep your eyes open.
Check the PA Environmental Council Bill Tracker for the status and updates on pending state legislation and regulations that affect environmental and conservation efforts in Pennsylvania.
(Photo: Eastern Hellbender.)
Hayes: Does PA Need A State Amphibian? Meet The Hellbender

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