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Analysis: 2017 PA Environmental Policy Initiatives In 140 Characters Or Less

Since major public policy decisions are now made in 140 characters-- or less, here are three Tweet-worthy environmental initiatives to suggest to Pennsylvania policymakers in 2017 under one 6-word theme-- Green Infrastructure, Multiple Benefits, One Investment--

-- Tweet #1: #GreenInfrastructure: Cheaper, More Effective, Jobs @realDonaldTrump Fund It #Multiple Benefits, One Investment:

-- Tweet #2:  #EnergyEfficiency: Least Costly, Jobs, Reduces Business/Home Costs, Clean #Multiple Benefits, One Investment

-- Tweet #3: #RealEnviroRegReform: #Cut Public/Private Costs-Not Effectiveness, #State Not Federal Control, #Public’s Right-To-Know

Oh, you need more?  Here you go--

My parents, like most, taught me three fundamental lessons growing up: clean is better than dirty, saving money is better than wasting it and being organized and efficient is better than not.

These policy initiatives are based on those simple lessons.

1. #GreenInfrastructure: Cheaper, More Effective, Jobs @realDonaldTrump Fund It #Multiple Benefits, One Investment

Fact: After more than 30 years of experience, it is clear green infrastructure offers a cheaper, more effective way to deal with the pollution problems we face today and offer multiple benefits from a single investment.  Green infrastructure includes forest buffers, stormwater infiltration areas, porous pavement, parks and recreation areas, passive mine drainage treatment, stream restoration, preserved land and more. The multiple benefits include reductions in water pollution, providing recreation, wildlife habitat and they make economic contributions to the community.  There are no magic bullet, single purpose, cheap black box technology solutions to our water quality issues. [Sources: Western PA Conversancy, LandStudies and Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA]

Fact: Philadelphia, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Lycoming, Monroe and York counties and many other communities are turning to green infrastructure with multiple benefits to meet water quality goals, improve recreation and achieve other objectives with a single investment.

Fact: Clearly Pennsylvania’s need for green infrastructure is there: 19,000 miles of polluted streams, 184,000+ acres of abandoned mine lands, 2,000 family farms on the waiting list for preservation, thousands of abandoned oil and gas wells, communities in need of help to reduce stormwater pollution and nutrient loadings across the Commonwealth.

Fact: Several proposals were introduced in the Senate and House at the end of 2016 to fund up to 26 different environmental programs financed by a new water use fee or unnamed sources of revenue.  But none are focused on really providing the most cost-effective solutions-- green infrastructure.  How can funding 26 different single-purpose programs possibly be effective?

-- Target. Target. Target: Refocus funding efforts at the state level with more local control to emphasize green infrastructure investments and demand projects achieve multiple benefits from a single investment to get the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck.  Green infrastructure investments aimed at reducing water pollution also need to be targeted to areas on the landscape where they will do the most good, further increasing their effectiveness.  Continuing to disperse scarce state resources on dozens of different, single purpose programs that will collectively have little real impact just doesn’t seem smart with today’s fiscal realities.

-- Trump Infrastructure Program: President-Elect Trump has promised a major infrastructure program.  Cost-effective green infrastructure should be included as a major part of that initiative.

-- RECLAIM PA:  Develop a state-funded program with the same multiple benefits of reclaiming abandoned mine lands, improving water quality, recreation resources and habitat as well as creating local economic opportunity as the federal RECLAIM Program.

-- Federal AML Fee Reauthorization: Pennsylvania should aggressively start NOW to lobby Congress and the Trump Administration to reauthorize the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation fee to support multiple benefit, single investment mine reclamation projects.

Let’s remember 2017 is also the 80th anniversary of the state’s Clean Streams Law, Pennsylvania’s first real anti-water pollution statute that is still used today as a foundation for our water quality improvement efforts.

2. #EnergyEfficiency: Least Costly, Jobs, Reduces Business/Home Costs, Clean #Multiple Benefits, One Investment

Fact: Energy efficiency employs over 66,000 workers at 5,900 clean energy companies in Pennsylvania.

Fact: The Commonwealth’s existing Energy Efficiency Resource Standard has resulted in the state’s utilities achieving a 2TWh/year energy savings cumulatively through May 2015 with a reported benefit-cost ratio of 1 to 1.64.

Fact: The PUC’s 2015 Energy Efficiency Potential Study for Pennsylvania shows the maximum achievable potential cumulative energy savings is 13.2 percent (relative to the June 2009-May 2010 baseline) by 2025.

Fact: Groups as diverse as the Philadelphia Energy Coordinating Agency and the Office of Consumer Advocate have been recommending energy efficiency as the most cost effective way to solve the state’s energy problems for years.  Some take-aways: “The Cheapest Kilowatt hour or cubic foot of natural gas is always the one that is not used….” “Pennsylvania is allocating almost 90 percent of all current funding to treat the symptoms of this problem: high bills, and only 11 percent in ways that can actually reduce the size of the problem.”

-- Target. Target. Target: Let’s find creative ways to direct existing resources, like the Utility Gross Receipts Tax, business technical assistance programs (PennTAP, EMAP) and other state resources now treating the symptoms of energy use to investments in energy efficiency that result in multiple benefits of saving energy, permanently reducing energy use (and bills) for businesses and residents and producing jobs.

3. #RealEnviroRegReform: #Cut Public/Private Costs-Not Effectiveness, #State Not Federal Control, #Public’s Right-To-Know

Fact: Asking whether Pennsylvania’s environmental laws are more stringent than federal laws-- Yes or No-- like Senate Resolution 385 did is the wrong question.  It’s wrong because it implies the feds-- Congress and the President-- always have Pennsylvania’s best interests at heart.  They don’t. That’s why states show leadership and act in their own interests, and with respect to protecting the environment, far ahead of the federal government. That’s called states controlling their own futures.

Fact: On the other hand, if you believe the feds have all the answers, then you need to accept what the feds are saying about Pennsylvania’s environmental programs.  DEP’s Drinking Water Protection, PennVEST, Chesapeake Bay, Stormwater Pollution Control, Air Quality and Surface Mining programs have ALL been criticized as inadequate by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Office of Surface Mining in the last year.  The criticism is based primarily on DEP not having adequate staff and funding to fulfill minimum federal requirements.

Trump Administration: In announcing Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator Wednesday, the Trump Transition Team was careful to say: “Pruitt agrees with President-elect Trump that states should have the sovereignty to make many regulatory decisions for their own markets.”

Fact: DEP’s General Fund monies have been cut by 40 percent and staff by 22 percent over the last 13 years without a commensurate reduction, but in fact an increase in, its responsibilities.  General Fund support in FY 2016-17-- $148.3 million-- is below 1994-95 levels-- $165.5 million.  DEP has been forced to raise permit review and administration fees on the industries and local governments they regulate to make up for a portion of funding they lost.

Fact: Even with these cuts, DEP makes its permit review deadlines on the 37,000 or so applications it reviews each year about 89 percent of the time, even when 80 percent of the time applications are not complete and 30 percent have technical deficiencies.

-- Target Unneeded, Unnecessary, Costly Regs/Policies: The RIGHT question to ask is what is REALLY driving private compliance costs and the public costs of administering environmental programs?

To address part of both costs we already have a model: Gov. Ridge’s Executive Order 1996-1 that’s dormant, but still in effect and requires state agencies like DEP to evaluate existing regulations and policies related to costs and effectiveness and whether they go beyond federal requirements without justification.

At DEP in 1996, the Order resulted in a systematic review of regulations carried out over several years through the Regulatory Basics Initiative.

It worked through a transparent process with DEP’s advisory committees and the public on section by section reviews of regulations and technical guidance.  It also solicited suggestions from business and industry on which specific provisions were burdensome without protecting the environment.

The result of that effort was saving individuals, businesses and local governments $138 million in compliance costs, the elimination of nearly 5,000 pages of outdated regulations and more than 1,700 pages of unneeded technical guidance and 29 packages of regulatory changes.

We need to go through a similar, transparent process today because we’ve added new regulations and policies since it was last done the last time and DEP has far fewer resources.

-- Why Do We Do It That Way?: In 2012, in response to Gov. Corbett’s Executive Order 2012-11 re-establishing the Permit Decision Guarantee Program, DEP did a review of permitting processes and policies to cope with the dramatic cut in state funding for its programs.  Do this process again with an eye toward automating the permit process and because DEP faces new resource challenges and with the creative involvement of advisory committees, the public and applicants.

-- Invest In Information Technology:  DEP is investing in electronic permitting systems to reduce both public and private costs and the administrative “friction” of processing applications, in spite of having 30 percent less technology funding than it did a decade ago.  Investing in information technology, after the permit review processes themselves are straighten out, must be a priority if policymakers want to see real improvements in the permit processing times given the staff cuts DEP suffered.

-- Consultant Scorecard:  Of course if 80 percent of the applications still come in the door incomplete and 30 percent have deficiencies, then an electronic process will not speed up the process.  Why not create a scorecard for each consultant submitting application to DEP just on the completeness issue and release it to the public?  DEP already has the information and its staff knows, but the public doesn’t.  Why not use it?  The alternative is creating a list of “approved” consultants, but that would create its own problems.

140 Characters+

In contrast to these kinds of real answers, Senate Resolution 385 asks for a Yes or No.  It isn’t that simple, although people want it to be.  It takes hard work in a transparent process to bring about real change; after all legislators and DEP work for the public that expects results AND a clean environment.

It also takes policymakers who look at real facts, like how many of the 37,000 or so permits DEP reviews every year really get stuck in the process and for what specific reasons (remember the 30 percent deficiencies and 80 percent incomplete numbers).

Most times, 140 characters are not enough to solve problems, let alone identify them, but there are solutions that don’t involve simply throwing away Pennsylvania’s decades of leadership on environmental protection.


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Related Stories:

Harrisburg Unveils Draft Green Infrastructure Plan To Cleanup Water Pollution Dec. 15

Feature: Conowingo Dam No Longer Holds Back PA Nutrients Going To Chesapeake Bay

DEP Presents National Mine Land Reclamation Award To Amerikohl For Beaver County Quarry

Draft Plan To Reduce Phosphorus In Lake Erie Focus Of Dec. 12 Forum In Erie

Dec. 13 Webinar: You Can Held Develop The National Energy Efficiency Registry

PennTAP Facility Operations Workshop On Energy Efficiency March 14 In State College

[Posted Dec. 8, 2016]


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