Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Local Governments, Others Oppose Senate Bill That Limits Local Choice In Clean Energy Sources, Locks In Status Quo, Negates Local Democracy, With Overly Broad Language To Address A Problem That Doesn’t Exist In PA

On May 11, the Senate
Local Government and Environmental Resources and Energy Committees held a hearing on Senate Bill 275 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) which would limit the ability of communities to offer new and clean energy sources and energy efficiency programs by locking in the status quo.

This legislation is part of a nation-wide initiative by the American Gas Association to get states across the country to adopt legislation to prohibit local governments from adopting ordinances that would block the use of natural gas in new homes and commercial construction.  Read more here.

While the bill’s sponsor said the intent of the legislation is simple-- preventing communities from prohibiting natural gas-- you need to read the black and white language of the bill to understand its true, far-reaching impact.

Important Points Made

Representatives of PA State Association of Township Supervisors, PA State Association of Boroughs and the PA Municipal League said several important things--

-- Local governments in Pennsylvania do not have the authority now to to regulate or limit utility connections, like natural gas utilities;

-- The bill would preempt local governments from dealing with siting issues in all forms of energy-related land development;

-- The bill negates local democracy and the ability of local governments to address problems of concern to their residents to protect public health and safety;

-- The groups said they are not aware of any municipalities interested in prohibiting natural gas in Pennsylvania; and

-- One presenter noted many of the terms used in the bill were “generic” and the “language was not crafted specifically for Pennsylvania.”

The Clean Air Council said the bill would lock in the status quo and prevent communities from offering additional, clean energy choices and energy efficiency options to its residents because of the overly broad language in the bill.

The natural gas companies in the Energy Association of Pennsylvania supported the legislation saying they have opposed policies that would regulate their utility services, something state courts have upheld, and agreed with the Township Supervisors’ assessment of their legal authority.

Groups representing business, commercial real estate developers and several labor groups also indicated their support for the natural gas industry and opposed limits on the industry which they said would hurt the economy, jobs and consumers.

Summary of Testimony

Joseph H. Gerdes, III, PA State Association of Township Supervisors, noted “in Pennsylvania, municipalities do not have the current authority to restrict a type of utility connection or energy source because the Public Utility Commission has oversight and regulatory authority for utility connections and as such, municipal authority has been preempted.”

“We understand that the legislation may exist due to the actions of local governments in other states to limit the provision of natural gas through building code or zoning amendments. We do not believe that municipalities in Pennsylvania currently have this ability.”

“While we agree that municipalities do not have the current ability to regulate utility connections, we have concerns that the broad language in Senate Bill 275 could be open to interpretation and limit the ability of municipalities to regulate in the siting of power generation facilities, including commercial solar facilities. 

“Currently, municipalities may site these facilities through zoning and regulate development plans through subdivision and land development ordinances and cannot keep out any allowable use. 

“We oppose any change to this authority and ask that the legislation, if determined necessary, be clarified to clearly preserve existing local land use authority.”

Gerdes also pointed out terms used in the legislation “are generic and making it appear that this language was not crafted specifically for Pennsylvania.  As such, we are concerned that these terms could be broadly interpreted and could be seen as preempting local land use controls, which we would oppose.”

“We do not believe that municipalities have the existing authority to keep out or restrict a utility service or connection type through zoning. In fact, our members have complained when water and sewer lines are extended into an area of the township that is not planned for development and may be zoned as agriculture or open space.”

“In closing, we do not believe that municipalities have the authority to restrict utility service within their communities and do not oppose a clarification of this existing preemption. 

“However, we ask that the current legislation be clarified so it is not open to interpretation and oppose any restriction or limitation to existing land use authority through the Municipalities Planning Code.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Ron Grutza, PA State Association of Boroughs, said “The sweeping nature of the preemption language in Senate Bill 275 could be problematic. We believe that enacting the legislation in the present form could create unintended consequences. 

“For instance, would utility street opening ordinances be considered having the effect of prohibiting natural gas service? Certainly, these ordinances do not prohibit the connection to utility services. However, with a broadly written preemption in this legislation these ordinances may be seen as a regulatory barrier to utility services.”

One of the unintended consequences Grutza pointed out was many local governments regulate outdoor wood-fired boilers and suggested Senate Bill 275 could preempt these ordinances designed to protect the health, safety and welfare of residents.

He also noted the only mechanism for adopting building codes by local governments is under the Pennsylvania Construction Code Act which establishes “a difficult process, with sufficient due process,” to adopt local building codes which are stricter than the state standard in the Uniform Construction Code.

He said, “PSAB is not aware of any municipality in Pennsylvania that has enacted or is considering enacting an ordinance which prohibits the use of certain types of energy sources.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Amy Sturges, PA Municipal League, said, “The League is strongly opposed to the Senate Bill 275. Our members view the legislation as a preemption of local authority. Additionally, the language of the bill is unclear and broadly written which will be harmful to communities as they try to sort out the extent of its impact.”

Sturges said “local preemption negates local democracy.  A community’s values are reflected in the actions taken by its local government. Local government is closest to citizens; most trusted by citizens; and best able to protect the most vulnerable populations. 

“On a daily basis, local officials are working to solve issues and address the needs and desires of their residents.

“Problem solving and policy making have the greatest opportunity to be innovative and responsive to citizen needs when done at the local level. Very often, a local initiative is prompted by a lack of action at the federal or state level. 

“Therefore, when state government interferes with local problem solving by limiting its tools and authority, the local citizens and their wishes are most negatively affected. Preemption ignores unique local needs and values in favor of a one size fits all approach. 

“And, we all know that in Pennsylvania – one size does not fit all.

“State action to preempt local governments is not new, but it is increasing at an alarming rate as local leaders seek to address the social, health, equity, environmental and economic desires and values expressed by their residents. 

“This interference ultimately negates our local democracy by ignoring the will of the citizens.

“In the instance of Senate Bill 275, the community driven values of proactively working to mitigate the many and varied effects of climate change are being negated in order to continue our over- reliance on fossil fuels. 

“The bill is a clear preemption of local governments’ duty to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. This duty is expressed in the various municipal codes, as well as the Municipalities Planning Code.’

“The movement to address climate change and promote the overall health and welfare of communities and residents is here to stay. Local governments play a huge role in this effort. Tools that are available today must not be clawed away only to slow progress toward healthier communities. 

“Senate Bill 275 may sound innocuous, but the intent is to tie the hands of community leaders who are listening to their constituents, working locally to solve problems, and protecting their health, safety and welfare with initiatives that promote a sustainable future for their localities and our Commonwealth as a whole. 

“Again, The League opposes Senate Bill 275 and asks that it not be brought up for committee consideration.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Robert Routh, Clean Air Council, said “this bill, as written, is overbroad and has the potential to chill municipal efforts to adopt new energy efficiency measures or even to offer financial incentives to developers to pursue all-electric construction for new buildings. 

“The bill prohibits municipalities (i.e. counties, cities, boroughs, and townships) from adopting any policy that has the “effect of restricting or prohibiting, the connection or reconnection of a utility service based upon the type of source of energy to be delivered.” 

“This language is too broad and ambiguous to be workable. Although the co-sponsor memo frames the issue as being one of consumer choice, Senate Bill 275 does not actually offer any additional energy choices to the people of Pennsylvania. 

“Instead, it seeks to lock in the status quo. It would ensure that local elected officials are prohibited from enacting locally tailored solutions to local concerns.’

“I am not here today to persuade you to enact state policy that would encourage, much less mandate, the electrification of Pennsylvania’s building stock. 

“Instead, I would urge you to carefully consider the consequences of Senate Bill 275, which Clean Air Council believes is not in the best interests of Pennsylvanians, or local elected officials - each of whom is accountable to their constituents - who may consider adopting energy efficiency measures and clean energy policies best tailored to their municipalities’ respective needs and interests.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Terrance J. Fitzpatrick, Energy Association of Pennsylvania, said he was providing comments on behalf of the Association’s natural gas utility members in support of Senate bill 275.

He agreed with other testimony that state courts have long held the Public Utility Commission preclude municipalities from regulating in an area entrusted to the Public Utility Commission.

“The public interest will be best served by a uniform policy in the Commonwealth regarding access to all of Pennsylvania’s ample, economical sources of energy. Pennsylvania is a major producer of natural gas and generator of electricity, and economic development efforts in the Commonwealth have sought to build on these strengths. 

“A fragmented policy environment in which municipalities impose limitations on which energy sources may be used within their boundaries will not serve the overall public interest in the Commonwealth. Senate Bill 275 will prevent this from occurring.”

Fitzpatrick said while he is not aware of any municipalities that have banned access to natural gas, “utilities have seen numerous instances of requirements imposed on utilities by municipalities.”

“We also recognize that there are different views within the U.S. and Pennsylvania on issues concerning the environment and, particularly, how to address climate change. Some believe that all fossil fuels should be “kept in the ground” and that we should immediately stop building infrastructure to transport these forms of energy.

“In view of these trends, we believe it may be just a matter of time before some municipalities move toward restricting sources of energy. 

“If this were to occur, customers and gas utilities could challenge these ordinances based upon the PUC’s exclusive authority to regulate utilities, but this litigation could be protracted and costly, and it would introduce uncertainty into the Commonwealth’s energy policy.
“For this reason, we believe it would be prudent for the General Assembly to pass a law that provides clear and unambiguous protection to the energy choices available in Pennsylvania.”

“The transition toward greater use of natural gas has benefited not just our economy but also our environment.  On the whole, residential gas usage has remained relatively flat over the last ten years despite the growth in customers. 

“Gas utilities are also moving toward greater use of renewable natural gas from landfills and other applications at a rapid pace. In fact, later this year, a renewable natural gas landfill supply operation will begin in Northeast Pennsylvania which will be the world’s largest renewable gas project.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Jamie White, Commercial Real Estate Development Association, presented comments on behalf of members in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia chapters that support Senate Bill 275.

“One of Pennsylvania’s biggest advantages when competing for job creating businesses to locate or expand in Pennsylvania is energy affordability. 

“Limiting potential employer’s energy supply options dramatically hurts the competitiveness of not just a municipality, but also of the entire state. Adding confusion regarding energy choice by allowing different municipalities to restrict energy choices will make attracting businesses to Pennsylvania even more difficult.”

“Speaking as an engineer, from an environmental and sustainability standpoint, allowing municipalities to limit energy choice is short sighted and impractical. 

“For example, because the Pittsburgh airport was able to install on-site natural gas generation they are reducing their annual emissions by over 160 tons of NOx [nitrogen oxide], 600 tons of SO2 [sulfur dioxide], and 60,000 tons of CO2 [carbon dioxide]. 

“Because of the critical nature of the airport electric system, using only photovoltaic, wind and other “renewable” electric technology would not have been feasible. If the municipality in which the airport is located had restricted energy choices, the mentioned environmental improvements in emissions in [the] Pittsburgh region would not have been possible.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Michael Butler, Consumer Energy Alliance, a nonprofit group representing the iron and steel industry, truckers, airlines, agriculture, labor unions, chemical manufacturers and small businesses, said it supported Senate Bill 275.

“Across the country, we have witnessed an increase in irresponsible policies put forth by local governments that would have the unintended consequences of increasing prices while failing to achieve environmental goals.

“... Misguided attempts to ban natural gas by forcing mandates onto consumers will lead to astronomical cost increases and jeopardize energy resources that are helping our nation reduce harmful emissions.”

Click Here for written testimony.

Jeff Nobers, Builders Guild of Western PA, indicated they support Senate Bill 275 saying, “allowing local authority [to adopt their own energy policies] – among some 2,500 municipalities--  would negatively affect our energy industry, tens of thousands of jobs in the energy, utility, and construction industries, and no doubt result in significant cost increases for energy to run our homes, businesses, and industrial facilities. 

“These increases would especially hurt elderly and low-income residents and certainly result in higher costs for all consumers in product and service costs.”

Click Here for written testimony.

The Committees also received written testimony from other organizations, including Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia and Greater Pittsburgh, Keith Holmes, President, Gas Works Employees Union Local 686, Laborers’ District Council, Manufacturer and Business Association, PA Builders Association, PA Chamber of Commerce, PA Farm Bureau, PA Municipal Electric Association, PA Propane Association, PennFuture, Pennsylvania Petroleum Association and the Sierra Club.

Click Here for a video of the hearing [when posted] and for copies of written testimony.

Sen. Cris Dush (R-Clearfield) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Local Government Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7084 or send email to his chief of staff: jfoust@pasen.gov. Sen. Timothy Kearney (D-Chester) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-1350 or send email to: tim.kearney@pasenate.com

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to: gyaw@pasen.gov.   Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5709 or sending email to: senatorcomitta@pasenate.com.

Part Of Larger Effort To Kill Renewable Energy

This legislation is part of a larger effort by conservative Senate and House Republicans to slow or kill renewable energy projects in Pennsylvania.  

In addition to this legislation, Republicans have introduced or plan to introduce bills to--

-- Stop state support for solar energy projects with any foreign components, which every energy generation source has.  Read more here.

-- Introduced legislation to require recycling of solar panels through the state’s broken state Electronic Waste Recycling Program (Senate Bill 530 (Dush-R-Jefferson).  Read more here.

-- Senate Republicans reported legislation out of committee to take away DEP’s authority to adopt a Carbon Pollution Reduction Program covering power plants (RGGI) - Senate, House  

-- Threatened to hold up nominations to the Public Utility Commission-- which has nothing to do with the RGGI regulation-- unless the proposal is withdrawn.  Read more here.

Related Articles This Week:

-- Senate Committees Hear Bill Requiring State Bonding For Solar, Wind Projects Duplicates Local Ordinances, Landowner Leases; Adds New Bureaucracy; And Has A Broader Scope Than Advertised

-- PA Solar Center To Recognize Solar Energy Leaders In Beaver, Washington Counties In Special May 20 Virtual Event

-- DEP Releases PA Clean Energy Industry Workforce Development Gap Analysis Showing How Best To Support Continued Job Growth
[Posted: May 11, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner