Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Republicans On House Environmental Committee OK Bills To Exempt Water Supplies, Slow Down Solar Energy; And Disapprove Of Air Quality Fees, New Manganese Water Standard

On September 30, Republicans on the
House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to report out legislation to exempt some water supplies used by the public from clean drinking water standards and slow down solar energy installations by requiring the recycling of solar panels through the state’s broken electronic waste recycling program.

Republicans also approved a Concurrent House Resolution disapproving of the Environmental Quality Board’s final regulation to increase Air Quality Permit fees and a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission expressing their disapproval of the EQB’s proposed change in the manganese water quality standard to make it more protective.

Exempting Public Water Supplies

Republicans reported out House Bill 707 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster) which would exempt any facility owned by a church or an association of churches, including schools, daycare centers and camps, from the need to meet Safe Drinking Water Act clean drinking water standards.

At a June 12, 2019 information meeting on the bill, DEP told the Committee not assuring the drinking water at these facilities serving the public meet safe drinking water standards would put Pennsylvania at risk of losing primary for administering the federal Safe Drinking Water Act which requires the regulation of these water supplies.

If Pennsylvania loses primacy, the $34 million and more in federal funds the Commonwealth receives each year to fund drinking water system improvements and $5.5 million in support to pay for inspectors and permit reviewers for the program would be lost.

There would need to be a change in federal law to make the change proposed in House Bill 707.  Read more here.

The bill was amended, but the amendment did not address the fundamental flaws in the bill.

Slowing Down Solar Energy

Republicans reported out House Bill 2197 (Dush-R-Clearfield) which would add solar panels-- “photovoltaic modules”-- to the state’s Electronic Waste Recycling Program-- Covered Device Recycling Act--  requiring manufacturers to support recycling programs that collect solar panels for recycling.

In April of 2019, the House Environmental Committee held a hearing on recycling, and electronic waste recycling in particular, and heard testimony about how the e-waste program is broken, both for the communities it serves and the electronics product manufacturers that support it.  Read more here.

The program continues to be broken and needs major changes for it to function.  The Senate and House has failed to take action to fix the program.

At a September 16 House Environmental Committee information meeting on the bill, the PA Recycling Markets Center, the PA Resources Council, the Solar Energy Industries Associates and DEP said the Covered Device Recycling Act is not an appropriate program for recycling solar panels, according to Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the Committee.

Click Here for a copy of the Solar Energy Industries Association commentsClick Here for a PA Recycling Markets Center comments.

The issue of recycling solar panels has been brought up frequently by Rep. Dush, the prime sponsor of the bill, and other conservatives in hearings on climate change and renewable energy.

They contend the state should not “rush” into promoting renewable energy until there is a viable way to recycle the panels.

In the Senate, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) is proposing legislation to load up solar energy projects with bonds which will have the effect of killing $2 billion in private solar investment.  Read more here.

These are thinly disguised attempts to make solar energy more costly and unattainable for Pennsylvanians and favor fossil fuels.

Trying To Kill Air Quality Fee Increases

Republicans on the Committee reported out House Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution #3 which would prevent the publication of final Environmental Quality Board regulations increasing DEP Air Quality Program fees.

The action gives the House and Senate each 30 calendar days or ten legislative days-- whichever is longer-- to pass the resolution to permanently block the regulation and present it to the Governor for his action.  During that time, there is a bar on publishing the regulation.

The House only has five scheduled legislative days left and the Senate seven.  The House has until October 30 to pass the resolution.

DEP started developing this fee package in December of 2017 and the EQB originally proposed the Air Quality fee increase package in December of 2018.  The state Air Pollution Control Act requires DEP to adopt fees to cover the cost of the program.

The EQB approved the regulation as final on July 21 and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved it on September 17.

At the Board meeting, Krish Ramamurthy, Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, said the federal Clean Air Act also requires DEP to have resources sufficient to pay for the program.

He added Air Quality staff has been reduced by more than 65 positions because of the lack of financial resources.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the Committee, said with the devastating economic impact of the COVID shutdown, this was no time to raise permit fees.  [Read more here.]

Click Here for the text of the Concurrent Resolution.

Urging Disapproval Of Protective Manganese Water Quality Standard

Republicans on the Committee approved a letter to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission expressing their disapproval of the proposed Environmental Quality Board regulation adopting a manganese water quality standard that is protective of public health and aquatic life.

The letter said in part-- “Not only did DEP fail to promulgate regulations within the 90 days required under Act 40, the Department waited well over two years before promulgating these regulations we are discussing in this letter. Even worse, these proposed regulations contradict the simple instructions contained in the Act. 

“DEP's excuses about why the delay was necessary to fully analyze their obligations under various laws and the health implications of manganese are utter nonsense. 

“The regulation that Act 40 contemplated and required was a straightforward change and would not have required any of the extensive review which DEP claims to have conducted. No federal or state laws would have been violated by complying with Act 40 and promulgating the required regulations. 

“The only law being violated is Act 40 itself by DEP. Why did Governor Wolf sign Act 40 into law if he intended for DEP to violate these provisions so completely?”

Click Here for a copy of the letter.

The IRRC has until October 26 to submit comments to the Environmental Quality Board on the proposed regulation.  Click Here for comments already submitted to the IRRC.

Background On Manganese Standard

The reality isn’t as simple as the Republican letter would have you believe.

“In reviewing the effects of manganese on human health, DEP determined that the current standard was not acceptable, and we consulted the latest research data to determine a new standard,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell and Chair of the EQB. “We believe this standard will protect human health from the neurotoxicological effects of manganese, as well as ensure adequate protection of all water uses.”

The EQB proposed a new numeric human health criterion for manganese of 0.3 mg/L in Chapter 93.8 - Water Quality Criteria For Toxic Substances, and would delete the existing 1 mg/L standard because it is not protective of human health.

The regulation, however, is proposing alternative language for public comment which would make the point of compliance at the discharge point or the point at which water is taken from a stream consistent with the 2017 law.

A 2017 change in state law, added at the last minute as part of a budget-related bill,  directed the Environmental Quality Board to adopt a proposed manganese standard within 90 days that includes the 1 milligram/liter manganese standard established under 25 Pa Code Chapter 93.7 and changing the point of compliance from the point pollution enters a stream to the point where it is taken out by a water user (25 Pa Code Chapter 96.3)

The 1 milligram/liter standard is 20 times the level of manganese that water suppliers are allowed to have in their water supplies, according to EPA’s secondary maximum contaminant level. Click Here for more.

Local government groups, drinking water suppliers and many other groups opposed the last minute amendment, which Republicans ignored. Click Here for more.

The last minute change was a favor to the coal industry and shifts the burden for treating manganese discharges from mine sites and other sources from those who pollute the water to those using the water, like public water suppliers.

The change in law swept away nearly 30 years of environmental protection for Pennsylvania waterways impacted by the consequences of acid mine drainage, and imposes additional testing, monitoring and treatment at public water supply operations along these waterways.

Current science shows manganese is harmful to human health as a possible nervous system toxin with implications to early childhood development at levels that are less than the threshold levels that impact aquatic life.

In January of 2018, DEP published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking requesting information on changing the water quality standard to gather more information on manganese impacts and setting a 1 mg/L standard as part of the regulation development process.  Click Here for more.

Both the Water Resources Advisory and Small Water Systems Technical Assistance Center Board voted to support the 0.3 mg/L standard proposed by DEP, while acknowledging the 2017 law moving the point of compliance.

Republicans did not mention the support of these two DEP advisory committees in their discussion of the standard, unlike when they pointed to the DISapproval of the proposed regulations establishing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Program covering power plants.

The Agricultural Advisory Board provided DEP with background on manganese related to the proposal.

Concerned about the delay in proposing a 1 mg/L manganese within 90 days of the adoption of the 2017 law, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, filed a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court asking that the EQB be directed to take action. 

On November 12 of last year, Commonwealth Court ruled the Senators lacked standing to file a petition for mandamus relief to compel DEP and the Environmental Quality Board to propose a change in the manganese standard as required by the 2017 lawClick Here for more.

Another Bill

The Committee reported out the noncontroversial House Bill 2002 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne) eliminating the obsolete Anthracite Coal Tax Act.

All the bills and the Concurrent Resolution now go to the full House for considerations.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to:

[Posted: Sept. 30, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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