Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Trout Unlimited Opposes Senate Bill 619 To Redefine Water Pollution In PA Saying It Will Harm Aquatic Life, Human Health

On September 29, the
PA Council Of Trout Unlimited and the national Trout Unlimited organizations submitted a letter to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee saying they oppose  Senate Bill 619 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) because it will harm aquatic life and human health in Pennsylvania.

The Trout Unlimited groups represent over 15,000 members in local Chapters all across Pennsylvania.

Senate Bill 619 makes fundamental changes to the definition of water pollution under the state Clean Streams Law effectively making most spills and discharges to rivers and streams no longer pollution, like those without numerical water quality standards.

It also lets an individual or company who causes pollution to surface or groundwater, rather than DEP, determine if any spill should even be reported to DEP and whether it is pollution in the first place.

The same day, the PA Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Foundation also wrote to Committee members opposing the legislation.  [Read more here.]

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation said after the bill passed the Senate in June-- “Senate Bill 619 will make it easier to pollute the Commonwealth’s rivers and streams and with fewer consequences. Water quality in Pennsylvania should not be regulated by just the limited list of numeric water quality criteria. Timely response and remediation are critical.

“A spill or discharge caused a fish kill in the Donegal Creek. The Mariner East II liquid natural gas pipeline has been plagued with spills. In 2017, 63,000 gallons of natural gas drilling waste spilled into the tributary of the Loyalsock Creek. If Senate Bill 619 passes, spills like these may go unchecked.

“We urge members of the House to consider the consequences Senate Bill 619 could have on aquatic life, recreation, and drinking water supplies.”

The House Environmental Committee is scheduled to have an information session on Senate Bill 619 on September 30 at 10:00 a.m.  [Read more here.]

The text of the letter follows--

Trout Unlimited is the largest coldwater conservation organization in Pennsylvania, representing over 15,000 members. 

TU opposes SB 619 as harmful to aquatic ecosystems and human health and respectfully submits the following comments for consideration regarding the proposed amendments to the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law as proposed in the bill.

-- [Limits Reporting Of Spills For Pollutants Like PFAS]  SB 619 would limit reporting of spills to those constituents with established numeric water quality criteria. However, many constituents contained in spilled materials do not have numeric water quality criteria associated with them; per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are an example. 

This family of chemicals is known to have contaminated groundwater as a result of the use and spills of firefighting foam nationally at army installations, including one in Horsham, and other facilities. 

They are known carcinogens, proven to impact public health. In Pennsylvania, alternate water supplies for Commonwealth citizens have had to be provided at significant cost to ratepayers and public dollars are often spent on remediation activities at these sites.

-- [Karst Geology Means Spills Are Transported Quickly To Aquifers] Karst geology underlies a significant portion of the lands of the Commonwealth. While connection between ground and surface waters is a scientifically proven fact with soils acting like a sponge in absorbing and percolating spill materials to underlying groundwater, in areas of karst geology, the ground can function essentially as swiss cheese, creating direct connections to groundwater aquifers transporting any spills quickly and allowing them to be transported miles to other surface and groundwaters, including residential wells utilized by private citizens. 

A recent example of the ground/surface water connection and the potential for migration of spilled materials was from the Mariner East Pipeline in Chester County where bentonite materials used for drilling were transported via karst geology to Marsh Creek Lake in the Marsh Creek State Park. [Read more here.]

This contamination via groundwater resulted in the closure of the lake to both Commonwealth citizens and tourists who provide significant economic support to small businesses in the Commonwealth, which is critical during times when record numbers of businesses are closing their doors.

-- [No Residential Drinking Water Well Standards] Pennsylvania is one of only a handful of states that does not have residential well standards. Because of this, spills, both those on the surface and those that reach groundwater, can cause well contamination, creating a public health risk. Depending on the nature of the constituent spilled, this can cause risk of cancer, endocrine disruption, gastrointestinal illness, and other conditions such as blue baby syndrome.

-- [Many Substances Without Numerical Standards Cause Harm] Both state and federal authorities and regulations prohibit materials from causing contamination of both ground and surface waters. 

As defined in 25 Pa. Code § 93.7(c), pollution is a broad term. If a substance does not have a numerical water quality criterion, pollution includes substances that “may not be inimical or injurious to the existing or designated water uses”. 

In addition, under 25 Pa. Code § 91.33, spills must be reported to DEP if they “would endanger downstream users . . . otherwise result in pollution or create a danger of pollution . . . or would damage property”. 

Besides Commonwealth statutes, the Department of Environmental Protection is delegated the responsibility from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to implement programs that protect both surface and groundwaters from pollution. 

Both the Safe Drinking Water Program, authorized under the Safe Drinking Water Act and 40 CFR 141, which provides for protection of drinking water sources from pollution, and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Program, authorized under the Clean Water Act and 40 CFR 121-123, which provides for protection of surface waters from pollution, safeguard citizens from the effects of pollution, including pollution as a result of spills. 

The NPDES Program specifically also creates a framework in which upstream dischargers cannot create pollution that downstream dischargers must treat. In effect, while protecting public health, these state and federal programs also protect dischargers from each other.

-- [Self-Reporting Not Realistic] Lastly, self-reporting from the regulated community is not realistic and the regulated community generally does not have the expertise to make decisions regarding the potential for environmental and/or public health requirements of constituents of a spill. This also creates, for many regulated entities, a resource burden. 

Many entities, especially small regulated businesses, may experience increased costs due to increased staff and monitoring equipment as a result of the shift to increased self-monitoring. 

Additional costs may also come from laboratory analyses and consulting fees as regulated entities may not know if spilled materials contain constituents which have established water quality standards and thus would require reporting. 

This is certainly an unintended consequence of legislation with the goal of reducing regulatory burdens.

Trout Unlimited appreciates the opportunity to provide comment to the committee on this legislation. Should you have questions, please contact Jennifer Orr-Greene at jen.orrgreene@tu.org or 717-364-4368. Thank you.


Greg Malaska                                                Jennifer Orr-Greene

Council President                                          Eastern Policy Director

PA Council Of. Trout Unlimited                   Trout Unlimited National 

Click Here for a copy of the letter.

Related Articles:

-- PA Environmental Council, EDF Oppose ‘Sweeping And Unwarranted’ Changes In Definition Of Water Pollution In Senate Bill 619

-- House Environmental Committee Holds Sept. 30 Info Meeting On Bill Redefining Spills, Discharges To Streams As No Longer Pollution

[Posted: Sept. 29, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

1 comment :

  1. We need to keep our water clean, not weaken protections!!


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