Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Scorecard: Senate, House Come Up Very Short On Passing Bipartisan Environmental, Energy Bills

On November 11, PA Environment Digest listed more than a dozen bipartisan environmental and energy bills the Senate and House could do before 2019 ends.  How well did they do?
They did pass one of the bills on the list--
-- Sunday Deer Hunting: Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R-Erie) allowing hunting on 3 Sundays a year was sent to the Governor for his action.
They did pass another environmental bill and send it to the Governor--
-- Local PFAS Cleanup Funding: House Bill 1410 (Stephens-R-Montgomery), but that would use local taxpayer funds to pay for cleaning up PFAS contamination, rather than relying on responsible parties-- Department of Defense-- to pay for the cleanups (Senate Fiscal Note & Summary).
They did move 2 other bills on the list--
-- Clean Vehicles: Senate passed Senate Bill 596 (Mensch-R-Montgomery) designed to promote the development of clean transportation infrastructure to support electric, natural gas and hydrogen vehicles.  It is awaiting action in the House.
-- Universal Lead Testing For Children: The House Children and Youth Committee reported out House Bill 79 (Isaacson-D-Philadelphia) requiring the testing of lead in children age 1 and 2, but only after today’s Republicans debated whether the bill represented an invasion of privacy, violated personal rights and was government overreach.
Step Backwards
Today’s Republicans running the House and Senate took a big step backwards by announcing the introduction of legislation to protect coal-fired power plants by eliminating DEP’s authority to adopt any greenhouse gas emissions reduction program, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative proposed by the Governor, without the approval of the General Assembly-- Senate Bill 950 (Pittman-R-Indiana) and House Bill 2025 (Struzzi-R-Indiana)-- without announcing any plan of their own to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; they just said no. Click Here for more.
Time Is Short
The House schedule has 3 voting days left this year-- December 16, 17 and 18-- after they eliminating the prior voting week from their schedule.
The Senate schedule has them coming back for one day only-- December 18-- after they eliminated 2 days of voting that week.
It is hardly enough time to do any more on environmental bills, but here’s the list of bipartisan environmental and energy bills they should address, if not this year, then beginning next year--
-- 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.”
After that statement was made, the General Assembly actually cut $16 million from the Environmental Stewardship Fund which funds local, on-the-ground conservation practices that could have addressed many of these problems in the FY 2019-20 state budget.
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, but did not yet announce how it would be invested.
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 House and Senate members now running the General Assembly are ignoring a recent Center for Rural Pennsylvania study showing there has been a 70 percent increase in heavy precipitation events in Pennsylvania and the Northeast between 1958 and 2010 putting more people and property at risk from flooding.
They are ignoring the fact PennDOT experienced record breaking road and bridge damage from floods and rain-caused landslides in 2018 alone costing taxpayers $125.7 million.
They are ignoring a recent report by the state Auditor General that flooding and other impacts from climate change cost taxpayers a total of $261 million in 2018.
They are ignoring the fact many localized rain storms causing property damage often don’t qualify for federal disaster assistance and state taxpayers have to pick up the full cost of repairs, or worse, leaving residents hanging without any state support.
They are ignoring the fact communities have to adopt local stormwater management fees to pay for projects to prevent flooding and stormwater damage because House and Senate members won’t help.
But thank goodness someone is showing leadership and acting responsibly!
There is a tremendous need for additional state funding to address critical drinking water, stormwater, flooding, wastewater and nutrient and sediment reduction issues all across Pennsylvania.
Click Here to see which streams near you are polluted and don’t meet water quality standards.

-- 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.

-- 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.

-- 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 since June. 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. Neither bill moved since February.  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.  Here’s where today’s Republicans took a step backwards.  Click Here for more.

-- 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 Agriculture Committee and would support the development of wind energy facilities and help farmers keep their land in farming. The bill hasn’t moved since March.

-- 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. House Bill 79 (Isaacson-D- Philadelphia) requiring the testing of lead for children age 1 and 2 (sponsor summary) was reported out of the House Children and Youth Committee November 20 and was Tabled.  Click Here for more. 

-- 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. The bill hasn’t moved since May.  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.  These bills haven’t moved since June. Click Here for more.

-- 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. This bill hasn’t moved since April.  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 Plan.  This bill hasn’t moved since March.  Click Here for more.

OK, this is the list.  Let’s see how they do.
[Posted: November 26, 2019] www.PaEnvironmentDigest.com

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