Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Briefing: Positive, Bipartisan Environmental, Energy Bills The House & Senate Can Pass Before The End Of 2019

The Senate has only 7 voting days left in 2019 and the House has 10.  But, that’s plenty of time to pass the more than a dozen positive, bipartisan environmental and energy bills now pending in the General Assembly and take action on much-needed environmental infrastructure funding before the end of the year..
Here’s a list of what the Senate and House could do--
-- Environmental Infrastructure Investments: Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it best in February-- the way the Commonwealth funds its environmental protection programs is “not sustainable” and “not having predictability in environmental protection is a dangerous thing.”
In spite of comments like this, the FY 2019-20 budget represented a step backwards by cutting $16 million in funding to support local environmental improvement projects and taking money from the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund to buy paper clips and pay the light bill for DEP.
In July, Gov. Wolf signed the PA Farm Bill providing $6 million for farm conservation, but it missed the funding need target by over $171 million for the agriculture community alone.
On November 7, Gov. Wolf signed into law House Bill 374 (Everett-R-Lycoming) to establish the Keystone Tree Fund (Act 78).  The bill allows driver and vehicle license owners to add $3.00 to those fees to support DCNR riparian buffer and tree planting programs starting in July 2020.
Of course, everything helps, like House Bill 374, and that should not be dismissed because the involvement of each Pennsylvanian is critical in cleaning up our rivers and streams. But, the bill may only raise about $700,000, probably less its first year-- FY 2020-21.
On November 16, the Governor’s Office of the Budget published notice in the PA Bulletin announcing the transfer of $45 million from 5 non-environmental special funds to “augment” the budgets for the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources.
These funds do not represent new money.  They attempt to restore some of the money cut from environmental programs in the FY 2019-20 budget shuffles.  Click Here for more.
The Need?
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan to cleanup our rivers and streams in over half the state will take an estimated $324 million a year over the next 6 years to implement. Without the funding, it will take us until at least 2044-- 19 years beyond the 2025 deadline to achieve these pollution reduction goals.
Statewide, 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards for drinkable, swimmable and fishable streams.
Abandoned mine lands scar 189,000 acres in 43 counties and pollute 5,500 miles of streams, and continued federal funding to support abandoned mine cleanup is in doubt.
The threat of deaths and property damage due to flooding is increasing significantly-- over the last 50 years the number of  heavy precipitation events have increased 71 percent.
The majority of the state’s 6,000 local parks and more than 11,000 miles of trails need significant upgrades
The PA Parks and Forests Foundation counts a $1 billion backlog in State Park and State Forest maintenance to be done.
1,500 family farms remain on the waiting list to be protected and preserved under the state’s Farmland Protection program.
Potential Solutions?
The bipartisan Restore Pennsylvania Infrastructure Plan proposed by Gov. Wolf was introduced in June in bill form with nearly enough co-sponsors in the House and Senate to pass the bills-- House Bill 1585 and Senate Bill 725-- but the bills haven’t moved.  
The proposal would provide significant financial assistance to get farm conservation, stormwater and green infrastructure on the ground, recreation facilities repaired and land protected. A poll in August found the Restore PA proposal has broad public support-- 69 percent.  
The hang-up? It would be funded by a new severance tax on natural gas production not supported by Republican leadership in either the House or Senate.  Click Here for more.
Senate Republicans introduced a Restore PA-Lite proposal in June-- Senate Bill 716 and Senate Bill 717--  that would establish a Green Infrastructure Fund to address some of the funding needs.  
The hang-up?  It isn’t real. It would be funded by authorizing more natural gas drilling in State Forests. The facts are no one is clamoring to lease more State Forest land for drilling, only 35 percent or so of the existing drilling leases have been developed and it probably unconstitutional.  It’s an empty proposal. 
Other possible funding sources have been suggested include eliminating the Sales Tax exemption for bottled water and teas that could bring in $75 to $80 million a year and a fee on water use.
Time For Action
Everyone agrees there is a desperate need to fund local environmental infrastructure upgrades, cost effective water quality cleanup projects and flooding and stormwater solutions, state park, recreation and state forest maintenance needs and land conservation.  And the public overwhelmingly supports it.
While Republicans and Democrats may disagree on how to fund needed green infrastructure, there can be no disputing the fact the needs are very real, and getting worse.
It is simply not acceptable to just say no. Viable, realistic alternatives that aren’t gimmicks or industry subsidies like almost all Republican proposals are-- Senate Bill 575, Senate Bill 716 and Senate Bill 717.
Funding local environmental improvement and recreation projects, providing real help to farms to install conservation practices, supporting mine reclamation efforts and taking care of our State Parks and Forests maintenance needs will be the fundamental yardstick used to measure of whether House and Senate members succeeded on environmental issues in 2020.

-- Reauthorize Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee:  The federal abandoned mine reclamation fee, which provides the bulk of the funding for Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine lands cleanup program, is due to expire in 2021.  Environmental, wildlife, states and many other groups support its reauthorization, but Congress is a mess and pressure needs to be brought on them to act. Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, introduced Senate Resolution 191 and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) introduced House Resolution 439 to urge Congress to reauthorize the fee and the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. Senate Resolution 191 passed the Senate October 28, but neither resolution has seen action in the House. Click Here for more.

-- Lawn Fertilizer Legislation: In May, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, circulated a co-sponsor memo saying he planned to introduce legislation to regulate the application of lawn fertilizers and certify applicators as a bipartisan initiative of the Pennsylvania members of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission.  The legislation is also recommended in DEP’s final Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan.  The bill has not been introduced yet, but will be worth encouraging as a good thing to pass.  Click Here for more.

-- Bipartisan Pipeline Safety Bills: Both the Senate and House have a long list of bipartisan pipeline safety legislation pending for obvious reasons-- Mariner East 2 Pipeline construction, a Beaver County pipeline explosion and more.  These incidents have raised serious issues about pipeline routes, safety plans and much more. 
On October 23, the Senate removed Senate Bill 258 (Dinniman-D-Chester, Killion-R-Delaware), a bipartisan initiative to improve emergency response to pipeline incidents and Senate Bill 284 (Killion-R- Delaware, Dinniman-D-Chester) require pipeline companies to provide current emergency response plans to PUC from the Table and they are now on the Senate Calendar raising the possibility for action.
However, none of the bipartisan pipeline bills have been passed by either the House or Senate so far this year.
There are lots of good bills, pick some and move them. Did we mention they’re bipartisan?  Click Here for a list of bipartisan bills and background.

-- Clean Vehicle Infrastructure: Senate Bill 596 (Mensch-R-Montgomery) designed to promote the development of clean transportation infrastructure to support electric, natural gas and hydrogen vehicles was reported out of Committee on October 30 and is now on the Senate Calendar for action raising the possibility for action.   Click Here for more. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider the bill November 18.

-- Community Solar: Both the Senate-- Senate Bill 705 (Scavello-R-Monroe)-- and the House-- House Bill 531 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne)-- have bipartisan legislation authorizing community solar projects which allow neighbors, businesses, farms, and other community members to directly participate in and receive the benefits from a solar project connected to their local electric distribution company’s grid.  Doesn’t cost anything, should be easy, but neither bill has moved. Click Here for more.

-- Act 129 Energy Efficiency Program Expansion: Both the Senate-- Senate Bill 232 (Killion-R- Delaware)-- and House-- House Bill 193 (Quinn-R-Montgomery)-- have introduced bipartisan proposals to expand the Act 129 electric utility energy efficiency program that yielded $6.4 billion in consumer savings and benefits in its first 7 years of operations.  This would be a good issue to address because they will result in saving regular taxpayers and small businesses real money. Note: There is a bad bill associated with this issue-- Senate Bill 129 (Boscola-D- Lehigh)-- that would exempt certain large electricity users from the Act 129 program.  Click Here for background based on last session’s bills.

-- Climate/Renewable Energy Bills: There are lots of renewable energy, Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, greenhouse gas reduction bills introduced in the Senate and House, including one of the only bipartisan bills in the country to require the Commonwealth to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.  These are a big lift with lots of moving parts, big policy decisions and big money involved. Pieces could get caught up in the debate over nuclear power plant subsidy legislation (see below)-- like Gov. Wolf’s last minute proposal in June to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.  They’re on the (wish) list more as a heads-up.  Click Here for more on the individual bills pending.

-- Farmland Preservation-Wind Energy: The bipartisan House Bill 441 (Sonney-R-Erie) amending the Agricultural Area Security Law to allow wind energy facilities on preserved farmland (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate and would support the development of wind energy facilities and help farmers keep their land in farming.

-- Lead Poisoning Testing, Prevention: The bipartisan Senate Task Force on Lead Exposure came out with a report in May recommending a series of actions and legislation to require lead testing of children, schools, drinking water, lead hazard removal and other initiatives. It’s a long list, many requiring money.  Some of the bills haven’t yet been introduced, but some have. An issue to watchout for with real health benefits for kids and parents. Click Here for more  The  House Children & Youth Committee is scheduled to meet November 20 to consider House Bill 79 (Isaacson-D-Philadelphia) requiring the testing of lead for children age 1 and 2 (sponsor summary).

-- Flood Insurance Task Force: The bipartisan House Bill 328 (Warren-D- Bucks) establishing a Flood Insurance Premium Assistance Task Force (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate.  The federal Flood Insurance Program is vital to protecting Pennsylvania property and businesses.  In 2017, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania issued a report saying heavy precipitation events increased by 71 percent over the last 50 years and 831,000 Pennsylvania residents are living at risk on floodplains.  It went on to make recommendations for improving the Flood Insurance Program. This should not be another study that sits on a shelf and a Task Force could help address many of these issues.  Click Here for more.

-- Allow Wildlife Commissions To Set Their Own Fees: The issue of allowing the Game and Fish and Boat Commissions to set their own license fees is squarely in the Senate.   Senate Bill 553 (Stefano-R-Fayette) authorizing the Game Commission and House Bill 808 (Mehaffie-R- Dauphin) and Senate Bill 553 (Stefano-R-Fayette) allowing the Fish and Boat Commission to set fees for 3 years are all in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would be very good for wildlife and the commissions to get this issue behind us and all 3 bills have bipartisan support. Click Here for more.

-- Sunday Deer Hunting: Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R-Erie) allowing hunting on 3 Sundays a year was just passed by the House October 30 and is now back in the Senate for a concurrence vote.  This one is close to the finish line. The Senate Rules & Executive Nominations Committee is scheduled to meet November 18 to consider Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R- Erie) providing for Sunday hunting on concurrence from the House.

-- Lyme Disease Insurance Coverage: The bipartisan House Bill 629 (Rapp-R-Warren) requires health insurers to cover treatment plans for Lyme disease or related tick-borne illnesses as prescribed by a patient’s health care practitioner, regardless if the treatment plan includes short-term or long-term antibiotic treatment (House Fiscal Note and summary) and is now in the Senate. In the last 6 years, Pennsylvania has ranked highest in the country in the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease. In 2016 Pennsylvania reported 12,200 cases of Lyme disease, about 40 percent of the nation’s cases. This bill will help patients get the treatment they need as a warming climate increases the threat from tick-borne diseases.  Click Here to learn about Pennsylvania’s new 5-year tick-borne illness study.

-- PennDOT-Native Vegetation: The bipartisan House Bill 447 (B.Miller-R-Lancaster) requires PennDOT to plant native vegetation along state highways (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate.  This would help support PennDOT’s new Adopt-And-Beautify option in the Adopt-A-Highway Program and help implement the agency’s Pollinator Habitat PlanClick Here for more.

OK, this is the list.  Let’s see how they do when they return to Harrisburg on November 18.
[Posted: November 12, 2019]  www.PaEnvironmentDigest.com

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