Monday, April 6, 2020

Republicans On House Committee Report Out Bill Again Trying To Emasculate Environmental Protection Efforts In PA

On April 6, the House State Government Committee reported out legislation by party-line vote-- Republicans supporting-- giving regulated entities sweeping new power to prevent the enforcement of DEP and other state agencies' permits, any “published or unpublished document” with no opportunity for public involvement or higher review. 
Republicans, which have pushed a variety of initiatives to emasculate environmental and other regulations for years, tried to justify moving the legislation this time by saying it was needed to help Pennsylvania recover from the COVID-19 shutdown.
Democrats on the Committee tried to table the bill saying the legislation was in no way related to the COVID-19 outbreak, but were defeated in another party-line vote-- Republicans opposing.
Using the remote voting procedures in the Committee meeting, no member who was not present at the meeting had any opportunity to comment or debate the bill.
The public had no input on the bill because the public is barred from the Capitol, almost all member offices and could only communicate with members through easily ignored email, telephone or by fax.
The legislation-- House Bill 1874 (Grove-R-York)-- was amended to authorize any regulated entity at any time to request a review by the little-known, and even less frequently used Joint Committee On Documents to determine if any “published or unpublished document”-- including permits, produced or issued by DEP or other agencies-- needs to be promulgated as a regulation.
The Joint Committee has 180 days to make its determination.
While the prime sponsor Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), said “this legislation will further weed out unneeded regulations,” it will, in fact, create more of them because the Joint Documents Committee only remedy is… wait for it... to have the agency publish more regulations.
The legislation has no requirement meetings be held in the public eye or involve the public or the agency that wrote the published or unpublished document in any way.  There are no provisions for even identifying the regulated entity making the request.
There are no criteria in the bill the Joint Committee should use to determine when a published or unpublished document should be promulgated as a regulation and there are no provisions for any appeal of the Joint Committee’s decision. 
The Joint Committee on Documents is made up of nine members-- the President Pro Temper of the Senate, the Senate Minority Leader, the House Speaker, the House Minority Leader, the Attorney General, the Governor's General Counsel, the Director of the Legislative Reference Bureau (which works for the Senate and House), the Secretary of General Services and two members of the public appointed by the Governor. 
In DEP’s case, it issues an average of 35,000 permits or one type or another every year and they all would be subject to these provisions that would block enforcement of any provision in any permit for 180 days or permanently.  
Currently, any person aggrieved by the permit issued by DEP-- from the public or the permittee-- has the right to appeal that permit to the Environmental Hearing Board which holds proceedings on the appeal where each side, DEP and members of the public can be involved in.
Permits and policy guidance are also subject to public comment periods prior to a decision where anyone can submit comments to DEP.
In addition, policy guidance is also discussed with the relevant DEP advisory committee before being published for public comments and input.
Commonwealth Court is also available to handle appeals from the EHB and to challenge DEP’s regulatory actions with the right of intervention by citizens.
This is a one-sided process designed for one thing-- emasculating environmental standards, while adding more bureaucracy and layers of review for agency actions all without the opportunity for citizens and the public to become involved.
The Committee-- also by a party-line vote Republicans supporting-- amended and reported out Senate Bill 703 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) which also expands the authority Joint Committee on Documents to determine whether “published or unpublished” documents of agencies should be promulgated as a regulation.
It could be used as a convenient vehicle for House Bill 1874 language later during consideration by the full House to fast-track its provisions.
Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the House State Government Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5270 or sending email to:   Rep. Kevin Boyle (D-Montgomery) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-783-4944 or sending email to:
[Posted: April 6, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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