Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Republicans On Senate Environmental Committee Report Out Bills Slowing Down DEP Permit Reviews, Narrowing Public Appeals Of DEP Permits

Republicans on the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee took action to report several bills out of Committee that will slow down DEP’s permit review process and narrow the grounds of public appeals of DEP permits to the Environmental Hearing Board.
The actions include--
-- Narrowing Grounds For Citizen Appeals Of DEP Permits: Senate Bill 726 (Bartolotta-R-Washington) which would create a new standard for the review for appeals of DEP permit actions before the Environmental Hearing Board by limiting parties appealing permit decisions-- a company or a citizens group-- to issues raised in and information contained in a record of decision on each permit DEP staff would have to prepare.
This bill alone will significantly slow down the review process for every single DEP permit as staff now has to devote their time to prepare the record of decision.  While it may seem like a good idea in an academic sense, the practical impact of the changes isn’t hard to figure out-- not good if what you want is to speed up permit reviews. 
Groups like the PA Environmental Council opposed this bill.
The bill was reported out of the Committee to the full Senate with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposed.
-- Limit Terms Of Environmental Hearing Board Judges: Senate Bill 727 (Bartolotta-R- Washington), a companion bill to Senate Bill 726, would change the term of an Environmental Hearing Board judge from 6 to 5 years and limited judges to serving 2 terms.  Any judge sitting on the Board on the effective date of the bill when it is signed into law who has served more than 10 years will have their term expire at the end of their current term.
Current law sets a 6 year term for Board members or until a successor is appointed and qualified.
The bill was reported out of Committee to the full Senate with Republicans generally supporting and Democratic members generally opposed.
-- More Complex, Costly, Less Efficient Permitting: Senate Bill 891 authorizing third party review of Chapter 102 (erosion and sedimentation) and Chapter 105 (dam safety and encroachment) permit applications.
The bill requires the Department of Environmental Protection to establish an “Advanced Permit Review Program” which gives applicants the option of using DEP-qualified licensed professionals to review Chapter 102 and 105 permit applications, excluding those related to abandoned mine reclamation.
The ultimate decision on the permit applications would be left to DEP.
The cost of setting up the qualification program for licensed professionals and providing training would all come out of permit fees.  These permit fees now do not cover DEP costs to operate the existing programs.
There are no separate appropriations to support this program in the bill, so existing fees would have to increase even more dramatically to cover this special program.
Since DEP is the ultimate “decider” on the permit applications, it would have to conduct its own second review of the application and the licensed professional’s recommendation and any public comments within the 10 days alotted by the bill to make a decision.
DEP is then the one that has to defend that decision in any subsequent legal challenges, even though it did not do the technical review and under the bill does not have adequate time to conduct its own review.  
The bottom line is why do 2 reviews?   The bill has several significant weaknesses that will ultimately slow down permit reviews without addressing the real issues. 
Groups like the PA Environmental Council opposed this bill.
The bill was reported out of Committee with 1 negative vote-- Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) to the full Senate.
-- Reauthorization Of Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee: Senate Resolution 191 (Yudichak-D-Luzerne, Yaw-R-Lycoming) urging Congress to reauthorize the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee which is the primary source of funding for Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine reclamation program (sponsor summary).
“More than 5,000 abandoned mine sites have left deep scars across our great Commonwealth,” said Resolution prime sponsor Sen. John Yudichak. “In northeastern Pennsylvania, we have witnessed an economic resurgence by reclaiming abandoned mine lands for economic development and recreational opportunities. It is vitally important for Congress to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, so that we can continue to make strides in cleaning up Pennsylvania’s landscape and turn environmental hazards into opportunities.”
Groups like the PA Environmental Council supported this resolution.
The resolution was unanimously reported out of Committee to the full Senate.
RGGI Briefing
After the voting meeting, the Committee held a briefing meeting on Gov. Wolf’s proposal to join the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative with DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell, former PUC Chair Glen Thomas and Chris Hoagland, RGGI Program Manager from the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Sen. Gene Yaw, Majority Chair of the Committee, made this comment at the end of the RGGI briefing--
“I'll be very blunt. Here's my concern, and I think from Pennsylvania's point of view, this is something you and hopefully the Governor will consider.
“I am worried about who we're working with.  
“New York has basically denied us the ability to construct a pipeline so we can provide gas to New England.  New Jersey has done the same thing. Maryland has done the same thing. 
“Those people, in my opinion, they are not our friends. 
“The net result of not being able to build a pipeline through New York to New England is New England is importing LNG from Russia.  Now somewhere there's something wrong with that picture in my mind.
“So my concern is not that we're working on controlling greenhouse gases, it's who we're working with.  
“I don't want to see a repeat of the Delaware River Basin Commission, and that's my fear. 
“We've diluted Pennsylvania's interests to the point where we've lost control of a significant part of our state and actually a part of the state that has significant Shale gas. I don't want to see that happen again.
“I have no problem environmentally, if there is something we can do with greenhouse gas, then we should be doing it.  
“I'm just not sure we should be doing it people who I'm not sure are our friends, frankly.”
This is not a new sentiment from Sen. Yaw.  In April, in a speech to a gathering of natural gas industry representatives, Sen. Yaw said he intends to introduce a bill blocking the transportation and sale of Pennsylvania-produced natural gas to states that have blocked fracking and pipeline expansions.
Sen. Yaw, along with two other Senators, have been involved personally in legal challenges to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s proposed fracking moratorium, including in July when the Senators tried to intervene in Federal Court on the side of landowners challenging the moratorium.
A video of the voting meeting and the RGGI briefing along with written statements will be posted on the Committee’s webpage.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to: gyaw@pasen.gov.   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7105 or sending email to: yudichak@pasenate.com.
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[Posted: October 22, 2019]  www.PaEnvironmentDigest.com

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