Thursday, March 5, 2020

DEP Senate Budget Hearing: DEP - Coal-Fired Power Plants Are Closing Without RGGI, We Have To Confront This Issue, Help Workers, Communities

In comments at the March 4 Senate Appropriations Committee budget hearing, DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said the reality is coal-fired power plants are closing because of market forces and no one is making the financial commitment to fund new coal plants.  It’s time to confront these issues and try to help these communities and figure out how to transition into the future.
Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, again commented, like he did last year, the way they fund state environmental programs is not sustainable.
Sen. Browne said if we look out to the next three to five years taking money out of special funds raises serious questions.  
He said-- again-- there needs to be a conversation about how to make this funding sustainable and pointed to the Governor’s proposal of increasing the municipal waste tipping fee by $1/ton to fund the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program as an example that moves the ball forward, even though not everyone may agree.
The issue of making environmental funding sustainable is important, he said, because no one can say what DEP’s does isn’t important.
Climate Change
On the climate issue and whether or not the state should join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee, said 18 coal-fired plants have closed so far in Pennsylvania without any help given to those communities.  No one is standing up for the workers.
McDonnell added business decisions are being made now by companies to reduce their carbon footprint all through their supply chains and the number of those decisions are speeding up putting Pennsylvania at a competitive disadvantage if we do not take action on climate change.
McDonnell said, as he has before, joining RGGI will give Pennsylvania the resources it needs-- about $300 million a year-- to help these communities and workers in transition and reduce carbon emissions through energy efficiency projects, carbon capture, electrification of vehicles and transportation systems and plugging abandoned oil and gas wells.  
Asked about the timetable for considering a regulation to join RGGI, McDonnell said the goal is to have a final draft proposed regulation to the Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee for its April 16 meeting, have the Environmental Quality Board consider the proposed regulation in July and finalize it in time to enter RGGI in 2022.  Click Here for more.
Questioned about the regional Transportation Climate Initiative to reduce carbon emissions from vehicle fuels, McDonnell said again, as he did at a January 29 Senate hearing on the issue, no decision has been made on joining the TCI.  
He said, again, DEP has not finished the analysis and modeling needed to fully evaluate what a program would like in Pennsylvania.  He said at the January 29 hearing, “While the administration is committed to being a part of the TCI conversations, the administration does not support raising the gas tax in the Commonwealth, so we will not make any decisions on joining until the program is fully designed.”  Click Here for more.
Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) asked about the potential of geological and natural sequestration of carbon to address the climate change issue related to legislation he has proposed.   McDonnell pointed to a number initiatives DCNR is undertaking on carbon sequestration that DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn discussed with the Committer earlier in the day.  Click Here for more.
McDonnell noted Pennsylvania is already seeing the impacts of climate change in the form of storm events like in 2018 that impact farming, damage properties and also impact water quality.  
He noted PennDOT pays real money to deal with highway flooding-related issues and we are already seeing the extensions of seasons for ticks and mosquitoes due to climate change that increase threats to public health. Click Here for more.
Chesapeake Bay
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and chair of the regional Chesapeake Bay Commission, asked about the relative level of effort Pennsylvania devotes to meeting the Chesapeake Bay cleanup goal given that Maryland spends about $500 million and Virginia about $250 million annually to meet the goals, while Pennsylvania spends about $80 million [taken from DEP’s Performance Budget Report].  
He said this is especially a concern because of threats to sue the state over not meeting the goals.
McDonnell said, although he doesn’t want to comment on any lawsuits, he believes Pennsylvania has the most credible Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan because it was built from the ground up and because key partners-- like the PA Farm Bureau and farmers-- believe they do need to more.  
He said DEP is also working with stakeholders and EPA to get credit for directly related pollution reduction measures like abandoned mine reclamation, private wetland mitigation projects and supporting another Penn State survey of farmers in key counties to identify as-of-yet uncounted conservation practices.
At the same time, McDonnell said, we do have a funding gap-- $324 million-- and some combination of state, private and federal dollars are needed to implement the Plan recommended by stakeholders. 
As an aside, he noted Maryland doesn’t know how it will make up for a 6 million pound nitrogen reduction deficit in its plan, even with spending $500 million a year on Bay-related pollution reduction efforts
Sen. Yaw also asked why DEP was asking for 10 more staff for the Chesapeake Bay Program and there was no request for more project monies.
McDonnell said the positions will be used to work with counties and local partners to implement the Plan and actually help deliver the funding resources we do have available now and possibly in the future.  The request for these positions actually came from counties and communities through the planning process. He added DEP wanted to avoid the situation where they have a “slug of money” and no capacity to deliver that money and programs.
McDonnell added groups like Lancaster Clean Water Partners have absolutely grabbed onto this issue and are coordinating local projects and DEP is giving counties block grants to support their local priorities
He also said DEP is targeting more funding, like through the Growing Greener Program, to areas where it will do the most good.
Sen. Yaw also repeated comments from an earlier hearing with DCNR about making sure funding for riparian buffers is spent where they will do the most good, like in areas south of Harrisburg [even though half the reductions are needed in the Bay Watershed above Harrisburg]. Click Here for more.
On the funding issues generally, McDonnell has also mentioned the Restore PA Infrastructure Initiative would be a big help in addressing Chesapeake Bay and water quality and flooding issues statewide.
[Note: Sen. Yaw and the Senate Environmental Committee held a January 8 briefing on Bay issues which spotlighted the need for funding to help farmers and other stakeholders in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  Unfortunately, after briefing, Sen. Yaw said raising the amount of money needed to implement Pennsylvania’s plan “isn’t going to happen.”] 
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver), Majority Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, raised the issue of whether county conservation districts are being adequately funded. McDonnell said districts have been a critical partner for DEP and the agency is trying to support conservation districts in a number of ways, some already noted above in terms of block grants, the request for additional staff and other steps.  
He said DEP is also working with districts on permitting and process issues to make their interactions more effective and efficient.   
In response to a question from Sen. Yaw (R-Lycoming) about how Pennsylvania will be measuring success in the Chesapeake Bay program, McDonnell said by measuring actual water quality and making sure the Bay Model gives us credit for everything we, local and private partners do to reduce nutrient pollution.
Hazardous Sites Cleanup
In response to a question from Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) about funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program, McDonnell said the goal of the Governor’s proposal is to return to a $40-$45 million annual level of funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program like it was in the past.  The proposal would add $1/ton to the municipal waste tipping fee to fund the program.
The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program funds the state’s share of federal Superfund site cleanups, pays for state hazardous waste site cleanups, supports brownfields cleanup and redevelopment and emergency response to contamination incidents.     
He added the Fund will be even more critical in the future for funding sites with PFAS contamination which we know is coming. 
McDonnell said DEP is also open to other proposals to achieve their goal, but achieving Fund solvency is critical.
PFAS/PFOS Contamination
In response to questions from Sen. Maria Collett (D-Bucks) about the status of the response to PFAS contamination issues, McDonnell said the next round of sampling results from DEP’s statewide sampling program to help determine the scope of the PFAS/PFOS contamination problem in the state should be announced in the next couple weeks.  Click Here for more.
McDonnell also said, as he did in the House, DEP has a contract with Drexel University to help determine the right number for a drinking water standard.  The results of that work should be available by the end of the year.
On the issue of formally declaring PFAS chemicals a hazardous substances under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act as proposed by Sen. Collett’s Senate Bill 582, McDonnell said they are looking at what the impact of that action will be, not only in the context of drinking water, but in terms of related regulatory requirements.
DEP is now also in the middle of a public comment period on a PFAS cleanup standard for soil and groundwater through the Land Recycling Program.
He mentioned again, how critical funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program will be in dealing with contamination issues.
He did agree they have to find ways of getting these chemicals out of the market as well as finding safe ways to cleanup contamination and manage any wastes from that process.
McDonnell said several times DEP and other agencies dealing with this issue are learning more and more every day.  Click Here for more.
Other Issues
Here’s a quick summary of several of the other issues raised, but it is by no means all of them--
-- No Backsliding On Progress Cleaning Up Abandoned Mines: Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford) expressed a concern about being at a “tipping point” in terms of water quality improvements and asked what the General Assembly could do to prevent any backsliding of water quality, especially related to abandoned mine reclamation.  McDonnell said more funding is needed to deal with these issues.  Specifically, the federal fee funding most of Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine land reclamation projects needs to be reauthorized by Congress.  In addition, Pennsylvania was receiving an extra $25 million in funding for a pilot RECLAIM PA Program that reclaimed mine land with economic development potential.  Also providing funding for the operation and maintenance of passive and other mine drainage treatment systems is critical Click Here for more on the federal fee reauthorization issue.
McDonnell said we also have to think about the next generation of individuals who will pick up this work in local watershed groups, because the same people that built these passive mine drainage treatment systems 25 or 30 years ago are still running them today.  We have to attract the next generation of people to become involved in these efforts.
On a related issue, Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill) said many of the waste coal-fired power plants that clean up abandoned coal waste piles are struggling to survive and need help to continue operating.  McDonnell said he has first-hand experience with the kind of reclamation work done by these plants. He noted one of the issues driving up costs for the plants is transportation costs because they have reclaimed the coal waste piles near the plants and have to reach out further and further for coal waste to use.
-- DEP Working With Communities To Comply With MS4 Stormwater Pollution Reduction Rules:  In response to a question from  Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna),       McDonnell said EPA’s MS4 stormwater pollution reduction program is an unfunded federal mandate.  But DEP is working with the 950 communities in the state (more than any other state) that must comply with the requirement.  He said they are trying to build flexibility into the program by allowing communities that join together to comply to all take credit for stormwater projects done in their areas as well as potentially to take credit for projects done outside an MS4 community.  DEP is working its way through the 950 permits and has not issued any notices of violations, preferring to work with the communities on any deficiencies. 
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) said he wanted to bring to DEP’s attention that some communities that have enacted local stormwater management fees have been getting letters from state agencies that own property within their municipalities saying they will not pay the fee.  McDonnell said he would follow up.
-- The Dimock Box: Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) about the status of the so-called Dimock Box, a three square mile fox DEP drew in 2010 around Dimock in Susquehanna County because of the severe natural gas migration issues contaminating drinking water wells from a Shale gas wells drilled by Cabot Oil.  He said property owners are anxious to allow gas well development their properties. McDonnell said they are waiting for the company [Cabot Oil] to respond to the latest draft consent order and agreement that would allow drilling in the area.  They are also waiting for water quality information in the right format so DEP staff can evaluate it.
-- Fees Support Drinking Water Program.  In response to a comment from Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) expressing a concern about Drinking Water Program fees paid by churches, McDonnell said he would have to see the specifics, but frequently churches have daycare centers or other facilities related to them that make them community non-transient water supplies under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.  Therefore they need to be regulated. The fees go to support the administrative costs of the Safe Drinking Water Program in Pennsylvania. [General Fund support for this program was cut significantly over the years and DEP has had to resort to fee increases to pay for the program to meet federal requirements.]
-- Vehicle Emissions Inspection Changes Need To Be Made Up Elsewhere:  In response to questions from Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Bedford), McDonnell said some changes could be made to the vehicle emissions inspection program, as long as those emissions reductions can be made up from other sources of air pollution.  In addition, since Pennsylvania is part of the Northeast Ozone Transport Commission created by the federal Clean Air Act, certain metropolitan statistical areas must be included in the program. McDonnell also noted EPA has found deficiencies in the existing program that will have to be corrected if DEP moves forward with changes.  Among them are requiring on-board diagnostics testing in areas like Cambria County where it is required to be done, but isn’t being done now. Increasing the waiver threshold for repairs is another change that needs to be made.
-- Electronics Waste Overwhelmed Collection Event: Sen. John Blake (D-Lackawanna) said a recent electronics waste recycling event held in his area was overwhelmed with e-waste coming in for recycling to the point it had to be shut down and he asked what can be done about the issue.  McDonnell said only about 25 percent of the state had access to electronic waste recycling now, but the goal is to increase that to 85 percent in the future. He said one of the problems is manufacturers are achieving their recycling goals under the Electronics Waste Recycling Program in one or two months often leaving the remainder of the year without their support for collection events.  In other circumstances, they are not collecting the more problematic materials, like CRT monitors. Click Here for more.
-- 2 More Waste Tire Piles Left:  In response to a question from Sen. David Argall (R-Schuylkill), McDonnell said there are two waste tire piles left with about 700,000 tires, but money has run out to clean them up.  He noted the sites would be challenging to cleanup, but DEP had not received any complaints about them.
-- Presque Isle State Park Sustaining Damage From Adverse Lake Conditions: Sen. Dan Laughlin (R-Erie) asked for DEP’s help in dealing with the damage caused by high lake levels and the lack of winter ice [as he did in the DCNR budget hearing] and with the algal bloom issue threatening Lake Erie.  McDonnell said they are working to better understand the algal bloom issue and the threat it poses to water quality, animals and people around the state to come up with recommendations on how to handle the issue, especially in lakes and ponds..  He said the problem is a difficult one because it is frequently caused by low dissolved oxygen and sometimes happens in flowing water.
-- DEP Is Speeding Up Permit Reviews, Clearing Backlog: In response to a question about transparency in the permit review process [Senate Bill 252] and the need to speed up permit reviews from Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), McDonnell repeated the series of steps DEP has and is taken to speed permit reviews, including electronic permitting, simplifying permit processes with general permits and other measures.  He pointed out in the House, DEP has successfully reduced the permit backlog from 8,715 permits in 2018 to about 500 permits today and in 2019 95 percent of permits covered by the Permit Review Guarantee Program [established by Gov. Corbett] were done on time.  [The Independent Fiscal Office DEP Performance Budget report recently highlighted DEP’s significant gains in dealing with its backlog and permit review times.]
For more information on environmental programs in Pennsylvania, visit DEP’s website, Click Here to sign up for DEP’s newsletter, sign up for DEP Connects events, sign up for DEP’s eNotice, visit DEP’s BlogLike DEP on Facebook, Follow DEP on Twitter and visit DEP’s YouTube Channel.
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[Posted: March 5, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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