DEP Citizens Advisory Council Urges Major Review Of Act 537 Onlot Sewage Program

DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council Wednesday recommended DEP undertake a major review of the Act 537 Onlot Septic System Program with the goal of including more onlot septic system technology options and integrating sewage planning with other water-related planning programs. 

The recommendations were a result of concerns brought to Council by members of DEP’s Sewage Advisory Committee and from Council members themselves and were included in a May 21 letter from Council to DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo.

Specifically, the letter said DEP should--

-- Approve the use of tested and proven alternative technology systems as part of its regular onlot sewage planning program; and

-- Undertake a comprehensive review of the Act 537 planning process with the goal of integrating sewage planning with water resources planning, stormwater planning and water supply planning.  Council pointed out the planning provisions of Act 537 are 50 years old and have never been significantly updated.

A copy of Council’s letter is available online.

Secretary Chris Abruzzo reported the Oil and Gas Program is planning to provide a summary of public comments made on the Chapter 78 drilling regulations at the June 26 Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board meeting for discussion.  DEP still anticipates it will be able to finalize the regulation in 2015.

Abruzzo said the PA Energy Development Authority is expected to have about $10 million available to help fund alternative and clean energy projects this year and will be soliciting proposals in the near future.

In a follow up to previous information shared with Council, Abruzzo said another lawsuit has been filed, this time in federal court, against Pennsylvania’s water quality antidegradation program involving reviews of sewage planning modules.  He noted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already said Pennsylvania’s program meets federal Clean Water Act standards, but DEP submitted additional information to EPA in response to the lawsuit.

The Secretary also said DEP participated in a recent U.S. House of Representatives committee hearing on the proposed EPA/Corps of Engineers waters of the U.S. rule, noting he did not believe it will have much impact on Pennsylvania programs because the state’s water quality programs already exceed minimum federal requirements.

Council Chair Terry Dayton provided a copy of the Council’s 2013 annual report to Secretary Abruzzo detailing the Council’s activities and accomplishments in 2013.  The report will also be distributed to the General Assembly and the Governor.

Council Chair Dayton also reported the Ad Hoc Act 54 Longwall Mining Impact Report Review Committee has received a draft copy of the 2008-2013 Act 54 impact report from DEP for review.  He said he intends to call a meeting of the Committee to review the report and tentatively plans to have draft comments for Council review at the June meeting.  [Note: the draft report is an internal DEP document at this time and was shared with Council under its statutory role of providing oversight of DEP Programs.]

Council also heard presentations from--

-- Vince Brisini, Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, on DEP’s white paper suggesting an alternative system for regulating greenhouse gas emissions under Section 111(d) of the federal Clean Air Act-  Click Here for presentation;

-- Katie Hetherington-Cunfer, the new Director of External Affairs at DEP, provided an overview of her role in the agency;

-- Dean Van Orden, Assistant Director of the Bureau of Air Quality, provided an overview of the 2012 Natural Gas Emissions Inventory completed by DEP- Click Here for presentation; and

-- Gary Walters from the Bureau of Point and Non-Point Source Management, provided a summary of the updated 2013 Water Quality Assessment Methods- Click Here for presentation.

Public Comments

Several individuals offered comments during the public comment portion of the meeting--

-- Stephen Kunz, Schmid & Company, Inc., provided comments to Council on a draft DEP Citizens Guide to Water Supply Replacement and Subsidence Damage Repair under Act 54;

-- Matt Walker, Clean Air Council, thanked DEP for its willingness to call for regulation of greenhouse gas emissions under Section 111(d) of the federal Clean Air Act, but expressed concerns about some of the facilities DEP exempted in its Section 111(d) white paper.

-- Rob Altenburg, PennFuture, also thanked DEP for its willingness to call for regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, but said DEP needed to do more to address methane emissions from natural gas production and distribution facilities;

-- Joanne Kilgour, PA Sierra Club, also thanked DEP for working through Section 111(d) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but was concerned with the potential exemptions in DEP’s white paper for waste coal-burning power plants and about the use of system-wide averaging to gain compliance; and

-- Bonita Hoke, PA League of Women Voters, urged DEP to do more to curb methane emissions from natural gas production and distribution facilities and called for a more traditional emissions standards, enforcement-based approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than the approach in the DEP Section 111(d) white paper and urged DEP to take prompt enforcement action against those localities that do not meet water quality standards.

Council Committee Reports

-- Legislative Committee: Cynthia Carrow reported the Committee reviewed three bills-- House Bill 1576 (Pyle-R-Armstrong) related to endangered species protection, House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R- Northampton) eliminating the mandate for stream buffers in certain areas and Senate Bill 411 (Kasunic-D-Somerset) relating to the reuse of mine water in gas well development, but had no recommendations for Council at this time.

-- Policy and Regulatory Oversight Committee: Tim Weston reported the Committee reviewed two proposed Air Quality regulations-- VOC emissions for industrial cleaning solvents and VOC emission for automobile and light-duty truck assembly coatings-- and recommended Council approve the regulations to move forward to the Environmental Quality Board for public comment.

-- Public Participation Committee: David Hess reported the Committee recommended Council focus its future public participation efforts on reviewing and making improvements to DEP’s 1998 Advisory Committee Guidelines which outline how the agency works with its advisory committees.

The Committee recommended a two step-process-- first ask each of DEP’s advisory committees a short series of questions about how DEP could make better use of their expertise, how well is the committee supported by DEP in getting timely agendas and meeting packages posted and solicit their ideas for improving the Advisory Committee Guidelines.

A second step would be getting together with the Chairs of the Committees as a group in the fall to go over the information received and develop final recommendations.

The tentative schedule for these steps is having a deadline in September for advisory committee responses, an October meeting with the advisory committee chairs and bringing recommendations to Council at its November meeting.

[Note: Council could take no action on Committee recommendations due to the lack of a quorum.]

Council Vacancies

Appointments to serve on CAC rest with the Governor, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Currently Council has vacant positions from all three appointing authorities. Persons interested in serving on the CAC should contact the offices of the appointing authorities directly.

June CAC Meeting/Field Tour

The next meeting of the Council is June 17.  The June meeting will not only feature a regular agenda of items, but also a field visit to a farm in Cumberland County to view best management practices that protect soil and water quality.

For more information, visit the DEP Citizens Advisory Council webpage.


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