Monday, June 17, 2019

Republicans On House Environmental Committee Urge IRRC To Disapprove DEP Air Quality Permit Fee Increases, Threatening Integrity Of Program

On June 17, with 15 minutes notice, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee held a meeting where Republicans voted to send a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission urging them to disapprove a proposed EQB regulation increasing permit review fees for DEP’s Air Quality Program.
Only one Democratic member supported sending the letter-- Rep. Pam Snyder (D-Fayette).
DEP proposed an increase of about $12.6 million in Air Quality fees for the federal Title V-- $5.9 million-- and state non-Title V-- $6.7 million-- permit reviews.
The increase was proposed because DEP is projecting a $4.359 million deficit in the non-Title V permit account in FY 2019-20 and a zero returning balance in the federal Title V account by FY 2022-23 with the current fee structure.
DEP did not propose an increase in the per ton emission fee used to support the program because of the potential impact on the regulated community.
Without the proposed fee increases, DEP would have to cut its Air Quality staff by 30 percent or 80 positions.
Failure to adopt proposed fee increases for the federal Title V program will result in action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to penalize Pennsylvania for failure to maintain adequate funding for this federal program.
DEP first began discussing proposed fee changes in public meetings of the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee and other groups in December of 2017.
The Committee’s letter to the IRRC said in part, “While the state's Air Pollution Control Act, Act 787 of 1959, does authorize DEP to set some fees by regulation, DEP's proposal to introduce a number of new fees and astronomically increase existing fees is unacceptable.
“DEP is explicit about its intent to collect approximately 15.5 million additional dollars annually from these fee increases to support its mission regarding air quality.
The letter notes DEP is not increasing the per ton fee on air pollution emissions, even though emissions have decreased by 41 percent since 2000.
“This decrease in emissions of pollutants is a clear sign that our business community has taken successful steps to improve the air quality in our state. When significantly less pollutants are being released into the air, it stands to reason that DEP's air quality program would not need the same amount of funding.
“Government creates statutes and regulations regarding environmental quality to achieve positive results, not to sustain itself. These fee increases will not lead to more compliance by the business community, it will merely harm innovation and investment by the business community in our great Commonwealth in an effort to sustain increasingly unnecessary bureaucracy.
“Instead of fulfilling government's role of supporting local Pennsylvanian businesses and communities, this regulation would hurt many of those who can least afford it. Though the regulation would apply universally, smaller businesses with limited resources would be disproportionately impacted by these excessive increases should the proposed regulation take effect.
“This proposed regulation is unacceptable, and if implemented would have a severe financial impact on our residents and the businesses within our districts. We therefore ask IRRC to disapprove this regulation in its proposed form since the provisions of the regulation are patently unreasonable.”
2nd Letter Opposing Fee Increases
This is the second letter sent by Republicans on the Committee to urge the IRRC to disapprove a DEP permit fee increase.
A 40 percent cut in DEP’s General Fund appropriations over the last decade has not only result in an almost 30 percent cut in DEP staff, but also forced the agency to adopt permit fee increases to maintain the integrity of its environmental protection programs.
House and Senate Republicans have led the charge for cutting DEP’s budget and were content, up until now, to let them raise permit fees so they would not have to appropriate General Fund money to the agency.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies have repeatedly warned Pennsylvania it needs more resources to support the programs DEP administers for these agencies.
Clearly a new point has been reached where Republicans now feel they need to cut off the only other source of funding DEP has to support its environmental programs.
At the same time, they complain about permit reviews not being quick enough.
Other Comments
The Clean Air Council, Earthjustice, Breathe Project, and PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center submitted comments on the proposed increase in DEP Air Quality Permit Fees saying the proposed increase would still not be adequate to fund the program.
The groups said in announcing the letter, "The Pennsylvania legislature and a succession of governors has starved DEP of funding for decades. DEP’s air pollution control program has lost a quarter of its staff since 2000 and is poised to go broke within the next few years.
“DEP is now stretched so thin that it cannot comply with the requirements of the federal Clean Air Act.  This lack of funding has weakened permit reviews, limited enforcement and restricted industry’s compliance with clean air regulations.
“Millions of Pennsylvanians breathe dirtier air as a result."
“Ultimately, it is up to the General Assembly to fix the shameful underfunding crisis they have caused,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel for Clean Air Council.  “Until then, we call on regulators to raise fees at least enough so that DEP can do its job protecting the air we breathe.”
Click Here for a copy of their joint letter.
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to:

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