Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Republicans Move Bills Out Of Senate Committee To Redefine Water Pollution, Sell Off State Clean Energy Credits

On January 25, the Republicans on the
Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to report out legislation to redefine water pollution and prohibit the state from owning clean energy credits.  

The bills include--

-- Redefining Water Pollution: House Bill 1842 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster) which would redefine water pollution to allow polluters to determine when spills are serious enough to notify DEP.

The bill was introduced at the request of Merck Sharp & Dohme pharmaceutical company initially as Senate Bill 545 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) which is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.   Read more here.

On the legislation, Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Committee, said, “I will be voting against this bill and as we mentioned just before we started, this is essentially the same issue that we dealt with in Senate Bill 545 back in June. 

“We're already facing growing impacts on our clean streams and waterways. According to DEP’s  recent report, about one third of our waterways are now considered impaired or polluted, which is about 9 percent worse than last year's estimate.

“In my district, we've had ongoing problems with a pipeline company that has routinely failed to report spills. You may have seen the Attorney General's report outlining that. In fact, the company still hasn't cleaned up a spill that occurred at one of our state parks back in August of 2020.”

“I just wanted to point out the groups in support of and in opposition to this legislation in terms of what the experts think. 

“In support we have one group listed, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. In opposition to this legislation, all major environmental organizations, the DEP, and the Fish and Boat Commission. 

“The devil's in the details, and there seems to be some debate as to exactly what the details entail in this legislation. But, the experts that we look to for advice and review [and] the environmental organizations are clearly unanimously opposed to this legislation.” 

“We need to be upholding the Clean Streams law, not letting polluters decide whether or not spills should be reported to DEP. 

“Let's talk about strengthening the laws and enhancing the DEP resources and enforcement, not making it easier for polluters to look the other way. 

“As the saying goes, we all live downstream. I ask for a no vote. Weakening the existing reporting requirements puts the environment and each of us at risk.”

The bill was reported out of Committee by a party line vote-- Republicans supporting.

[Note: Is it really such a good idea to move this bill when DEP just reported a record 27,886 miles of streams-- 33 percent-- in Pennsylvania don’t meet water quality standards?  Read more here.

[The Senate should be working on cleaning up pollution by allocating $500 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to fund watershed restoration, farm conservation, recreation and other local environmental projects-- bipartisan Senate Bill 525.  Read more here.

[The Senate could also be moving bipartisan Senate Bill 465 to create a new program to pay for on-farm conservation projects.  Read more here.]

[Instead, it’s taking up time on ‘dog whistles.’ Read more here.]

-- Prohibiting The State From Owning Clean Energy Credits: Senate Bill 945 (Yaw-R- Lycoming) directs state government to sell all its Renewable Energy Credits and deposit the proceeds in the Marcellus Legacy Fund for use to plug oil and gas wells abandoned by the industry and left to taxpayers to pay to clean up.  Read more here.

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Committee, said, “I will be voting no. First, the solar renewable energy credits, SRECs, are what makes the PA PULSE Project environmentally beneficial to begin with. 

“They mean that half of the Commonwealth's electricity will be from renewable energy. The bill directly undermines the effort to reduce the state government's greenhouse gas emissions at a time when we need to be a leader in the clean energy economy. 

“As mentioned by Senator Yaw, we've heard from several PASSHE institutions including West Chester University in my district. 

“West Chester University, along with Slippery Rock, Millersville, and others are working to purchase a large amount of electricity from solar to help reduce their carbon footprint. 

“If SRECs are sold, it essentially means that the buyers of the SRECs are consuming that solar energy and not the entity or university that contracted the development. 

“Therefore, the university would not be able to claim that it's using solar energy or reflect that energy in its carbon footprint analysis.

“Furthermore, the Solar Energy Industries Association is opposed to the bill because its members are very concerned that forcing the Commonwealth to sell all of its alternative energy credits at once could flood the SREC market, crashing its value and having a disastrous impact on the Commonwealth's solar industry. 

“This is a growing industry that supports thousands of jobs and hundreds of companies. It should be fostered and it should be supported. 

“Finally, we don't need to sell alternative energy credits to plug abandoned and orphaned oil and gas wells. The DEP is already expected to receive nearly $400 million over the next decade through the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to do just that. 

“Solar energy and renewables are growing rapidly. We should be looking to expand options to using them, not limiting them or negating the in- investments that have already been made. 

“So,I ask for a no vote.”

The bill was reported out of Committee by a party line vote-- Republicans supporting.

[Note: As mentioned, DEP is expected to receive approximately $395 million to plug orphan and abandoned oil and gas wells over the next decade from the new federal Bipartisan Infrastructure law.  Read more here

[The Senate could be working on this-- DEP has only $15 per well in bonds on hand to deter future abandoned wells from existing oil and gas well owners.  Read more here.

[Conventional oil and gas well drillers tried to abandon wells without plugging them 813 times in 2019 and 2020.  Read more here.]

-- Suspending California Heavy-Duty Clean Vehicle Regulations: Senate Bill 1030 (Yaw-R-Lycoming)-- not introduced yet-- to temporarily suspend Pennsylvania’s regulations which adopted California regulations related to heavy-duty vehicle diesel controls, leaving the federal standards to govern while the suspension is in effect.

This is a companion bill to House Bill 2075 (Knowles-R-Schuylkill) the House passed December 15 which is also in this Committee, but has a different schedule for suspending the regulations.

[Note: DEP actually did this on November 6, 2021.  Read more here.]

The bill was reported out of Committee by a party line vote-- Republicans supporting.

-- Adding Coal Refuse Energy Rep To Advisory Board: House Bill 668 (James-R-Venango) adding a coal refuse energy representative on DEP’s Mining and Reclamation Advisory Board.

The bill was reported out of Committee by unanimous vote.

Video Of Meeting

Click Here for a video of the meeting.

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.

Related Article This Week:

-- PA State Government Has Refused To Pay Stormwater Management Fees To Local Authorities Designed To Meet Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Obligations 

Related Articles:

-- PA Conservation Districts Oppose Bill Redefining Water Pollution, Letting Polluters Decide When To Report Spills  

-- DEP Outlines 2022 Priorities: Make Up Deficit In Oil & Gas Funding; Get Resources Needed To Invest New Federal Mine Reclamation, Oil & Gas Well Plugging Funds

-- Two Bipartisan Bills Just Sitting In Senate Waiting To Address Record Number Of Water Quality Impaired Streams Reported In 2022

-- DEP 2022 Water Quality Report Shows 27,886 Miles Of Streams With Impaired Water Quality In PA (33%) - An Increase From 25,468 In 2020

-- Sen. Yaw Introduces Bill To Make It Illegal For State Government To Own Renewable Energy, Something Every Utility, And Thousands Of Energy Users Do
-- Let’s Pass Some Good Environmental & Energy Legislation In 2022 - Instead Of Just Dog Whistles

[Posted: January 25, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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