Friday, August 23, 2019

House Committee Hears Call For More State Authority To Approve Pipeline Routes In Hearing On Bipartisan Pipeline Safety Legislation

On August 21, the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee held a hearing on House Bill 1568 sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) and Rep. Chris Quinn (R-Delaware) establishing a new Pipeline Safety and Communication Board.
Under House Bill 1568, the Pipeline Safety and Communications Board would be made up of representatives of the six different state agencies with responsibility for pipeline safety in the state and other members appointed by the House and Senate.
The responsibilities of the Board are to collect and disseminate public information on planning, siting, operation and safety of pipelines and to coordinate communications with federal, state and local government agencies and pipeline companies and the public.
In comments before the Committee, Ramez Ziadeh, DEP Deputy Secretary for Programs, repeated Gov. Wolf’s call from earlier this year for legislation giving the Public Utility Commission more authority over pipeline siting decisions, setting private water well standards and filling other gaps in laws related to pipelines.
The Public Utility Commission also raised serious concerns over handling sensitive information that could compromise the security of public utility infrastructure.
Ramez Ziadeh, DEP Deputy Secretary for Programs, started his comments by providing an overview of DEP’s responsibilities in issuing Chapter 102 (erosion and sedimentation), Chapter 105 (encroachments) and Chapter 106 (floodplain) permits for pipelines and enforcing them.
Ziadeh noted existing state law limits the authority of DEP or any other state agency to have any role in pipeline siting and routing.  
He noted in January, Gov Wolf called for legislation granting siting authority to the Public Utility Commission for pipelines that DEP believes may address many of the pipeline concerns of the public and members of the General Assembly.
Ziadeh added DEP does not have statutory authority to regulate private water wells in terms of construction standards and lacks an inventory of private water well supplies that could aid in preventing and help respond to pipeline construction issues, spills and explosions..
[Note: Both Andrew Place, Vice Chair of the Public Utility Commission, and DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell told the House Republican Policy Committee in July 2018 they would support a serious conversation on how Pennsylvania can have a meaningful role in siting pipelines like the Mariner East 2 Pipeline.
[In addition, Secretary McDonnell said Pennsylvania needs to adopt private water well construction and location standards so DEP has fundamental information like where wells are located to properly consider impacts during pipeline permitting. Click Here for more.]
Ziadeh said DEP is developing additional permitting requirements for pipelines through the use of two stakeholder groups that have looked at the issues of Horizontal Directional Drilling and a revised alternatives analysis under Chapter 105.
He said the agency expects to have draft guidance on these points for public comment by “the winter of 2020.”
Ziadeh said DEP believes the bill should also be amended to limit the definition of pipelines to those pipelines involved in the transmission of oil and gas and related products, not gathering or distribution lines or pipelines that transport water and sewage.
Seth Mendelsohn, Executive Director of the Public Utility Commission, told the Committee the PUC supports the goals of the legislation, but the Commission has several major concerns about the legislation.
“...(T)he Commission currently opposes the legislation unless amended to address the two most serious concerns we will highlight today,including the importance of maintaining Pennsylvania's Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act, and clarification of responsibilities and procedures related to Pennsylvania's Right-to-Know Law.”
Mendelsohn said House Bill 1568 repeals the Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act without a plan to replace it.
“CSI is information provided by a public utility that, if disclosed, would compromise security against sabotage or criminal or terrorist acts, and the non-disclosure of which is necessary for the protection of life, safety, public property or public utility facilities,” said Mendelsohn.  “It is important to note that the CSI Act covers not only public utility pipelines, but also electric utilities, natural gas utilities, telecommunications utilities and water/wastewater utilities.
“We encourage the Committee to review the CSI Act in its entirety, both to modernize it to address risks to public utilities which have been identified subsequent to its enactment, such as those involving cybersecurity, and to correct its flaws, such as enabling better and more transparent information  sharing amongst state agencies and with county and local governments,” Mendelsohn added.
He also pointed out the lack of clarity in how requests are handled under the Right-to-Know Law that could cause problems.
Other issues raised by Mendelsoh included--
-- Interstate Pipelines: Based on the current draft of the Act, it is unclear whether the Board will attempt to exercise some jurisdiction over interstate pipelines, which generally fall under federal jurisdiction and if so, under what authority.  The Act does not differentiate between interstate and intrastate pipelines
-- Siting Authority: Additionally, Section 4 of the Act includes information relative to "siting," though this is a matter under the purview of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Commonwealth agencies do not have siting authority.
-- Conflicts With PUC Cases: Under the bill, the Chairperson of the PUC, as a member of the Board, would need to attend quarterly meetings, review information collected for dissemination to the public relating to pipeline activities, and aid in coordinating communications with public and private entities. But the review and potential discussion of information relating to pipeline activities in these quarterly meetings may present conflicts for the PUC Chair, particularly regarding ex parte communications related to cases actively being litigated before the PUC. 
-- Funding/Staffing: Details regarding how the Board will be funded and staffed are not included in the Act, so the true fiscal impacts are unknown. There is no explicit funding mechanism and utilizing current PUC staff and assessment designs may result in administrative costs for the Board being borne by non-pipeline-related public utilities and their customers.
Lisa Schaefer, Director Of Government Relations for the County Commissioners Association of PA, provided written comments to the Committee that called attention to the 2016 report issued by Gov. Wolf’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force that made 12 recommendations on improving communication and cooperation with and among county government, municipalities, citizens, pipeline operators, planning departments, GIS resources and environmental authorities. 
She said these recommendations demonstrate the wide variety of ways in which counties are a stakeholder in the pipeline development process to enhance the safety of our communities.
“Given the integral role that counties can play in addressing pipeline safety and communicating information, CCAP requests that county expertise from county emergency management, GIS, planning offices and conservation districts be incorporated into House Bill 1568, either as members of the proposed Pipeline Safety and Communication Board or at minimum as part of an advisory council to the Board.
“Counties want to be an ongoing partner as the oil and gas industry evolves, and would be able to provide meaningful input to the Board about how they can best provide accurate and timely information to the communities they represent.”
Sarah Boateng, Executive Deputy Secretary for the Department of Health, provided an overview of the agency’s responsibilities in responding to public concerns about health impacts of oil and gas-related facilities.
She noted the Department has created an Oil and Gas Health Registry for the public to provide information on public health impacts.
Jon Fleming, Division Chief Bureau of Maintenance & Operations PennDOT, echoed many of the same concerns as Seth Mendensohn had about the potential repeal of the Confidential Security Information Disclosure Protection Act and sensitive information.
As a follow up to comments made at the hearing, Majority Committee Chair Stephen Barrar (R-Delaware), said he would hold a stakeholders meeting to discuss issues relating to sharing of sensitive utility information.
A video of the hearing should be made available on the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee video webpage.
This is the second hearing the Committee has held on pipeline safety issues this year.
In May, the Committee held a hearing in Delaware County on pipeline issues that highlighted the need to have emergency response plans in the event of a leak or explosion.
[Note: There has been little real action on legislation to improve pipeline safety or address siting or water well impacts in the House or Senate in the last several years, even though dozens of bills have been introduced with bipartisan sponsorship.  Click Here for more.]
Rep. Stephen Barrar (R-Delaware) serves as Majority Chair of the  House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, and can be contacted by calling 717-783-3038 or by sending email to: Rep. Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-772-2436 or by sending email to:
(Photo: Representatives Barrar, Comitta, Quinn.)
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Environmental Groups Praise DEP For Revoking Beaver Conservation District's Authority Over Pipeline Permits, Call For More Action

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