Briefing: Good, Bad & Ugly Environment & Energy Bills In The PA House, Senate
First the basics: The House returns to session on September 17 and has 24 voting days scheduled between then and the end of the year. The Senate returns September 23 and has 15 voting days scheduled.
Typically, midway through the 2-year legislative session like this, Harrisburg politicians are thinking about what bills they need to get moving or passed to please voters and contributors before running for re-election next year.
And 2020, being a Presidential election year, promises to be a wild and expensive one.
If we’re lucky, they’ll also think a little bit about what’s good for the Commonwealth, the public and, in this case, the environment and energy policy.
Here’s the 30,000 foot view of the bills/issues on the Good, Bad & Ugly lists--
Good Bills, Should Move--
-- Environmental Infrastructure Investments - Bipartisan support
-- Reauthorize Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee - Bipartisan support
-- Keystone Tree Fund - Bipartisan support
-- Lawn Fertilizer Legislation - Bipartisan support
-- Pipeline Safety Bills - Bipartisan support
-- Community Solar - Bipartisan support
-- Act 129 Energy Efficiency Program Expansion - Bipartisan support
-- Climate/Renewable Energy Bills - Bipartisan support
-- Farmland Preservation-Wind Energy - Bipartisan support
-- Lead Poisoning Testing, Prevention - Bipartisan support
-- Flood Insurance Task Force - Bipartisan support
-- Allow Wildlife Commissions To Set Their Own Fees - Bipartisan support
-- Sunday Deer Hunting - Bipartisan support
-- Removing Game Lands Purchase Cap - Bipartisan support
-- Lyme Disease Insurance Coverage - Bipartisan support
-- PennDOT-Native Vegetation - Bipartisan support
Bad & Ugly Bills, Should NOT Move--
-- Turn Back Regulation Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wells To 1984
-- Fundamental Crippling The Definition Of Water Pollution
-- Paying Gas Rights Owners In Delaware Watershed $10 Billion
-- Pretend Solution To Fund Chesapeake Bay Cleanup
-- Neutering Environmental Regulations Saying It’s Reform
-- Misleading The Public About Vehicle Emission Inspection Program Changes
-- Nuclear Power Plant Subsidies (It Could Be Much More)
-- Natural Gas Subsidies
-- Coal Refuse-Fired Electric Generation Subsidy
-- Reporting Damage From Underground Coal Mining By DEP Optional
-- Exempting Religious Facilities From Safe Drinking Water Standards
-- 20 Day Reviews Of DEP Erosion & Sedimentation Permits
Here are the details to watch out for-- the good, the bad and some really ugly. It is by no means a complete list, particularly of harmful ideas that could sneak through and become law.
Good Bills =================================================
Environmental Infrastructure Investments: Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said it best in February-- the way the Commonwealth funds its environmental protection programs is “not sustainable” and “not having predictability in environmental protection is a dangerous thing.”
In spite of comments like this, the FY 2019-20 budget represented a step backwards by cutting $16 million in funding to support local environmental improvement projects and taking money from the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund to buy paper clips and pay the light bill for DEP.
These cuts alone could have funded 32,000 acres of stream buffers, according to the Growing Greener Coalition.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan to cleanup our rivers and streams in over half the state will take an estimated $324 million a year over the next 6 years to implement. Without the funding, it will take us until at least 2044-- 19 years beyond the 2025 deadline to achieve these pollution reduction goals.
Statewide, 40 percent of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards for drinkable, swimmable and fishable streams.
Abandoned mine lands scar 189,000 acres in 43 counties and pollute 5,500 miles of streams, and continued federal funding to support abandoned mine cleanup is in doubt.
The threat of deaths and property damage due to flooding is increasing significantly-- over the last 50 years the number of heavy precipitation events have increased 71 percent.
The majority of the state’s 6,000 local parks and more than 11,000 miles of trails need significant upgrades
The PA Parks and Forests Foundation counts a $1 billion backlog in State Park and State Forest maintenance to be done.
1,500 family farms remain on the waiting list to be protected and preserved under the state’s Farmland Protection program.
The bipartisan Restore Pennsylvania Infrastructure Plan proposed by Gov. Wolf was introduced in June in bill form with nearly enough co-sponsors in the House and Senate to pass the bills-- House Bill 1585 and Senate Bill 725.
It would provide significant financial assistance to get farm conservation, stormwater and green infrastructure on the ground, recreation facilities repaired and land protected. A poll in August found the Restore PA proposal has broad public support-- 69 percent.
The hang-up? It would be funded by a new severance tax on natural gas production not supported by Republican leadership in either the House or Senate. Click Here for more.
The hang-up? It isn’t real. It would be funded by authorizing more natural gas drilling in State Forests. The facts are no one is clamoring to lease more State Forest land for drilling, only 35 percent or so of the existing drilling leases have been developed and it may be unconstitutional. It’s an empty proposal.
And shouldn’t we ask what they did with the first few hundreds of millions of dollars in drilling money? They squandered it, is what, to fill General Fund budget holes. Click Here for more.
Other possible funding sources have been suggested include eliminating the Sales Tax exemption for bottled water and teas that could bring in $75 to $80 million a year and a fee on water use.
Time For Action
Everyone agrees there is a desperate need to fund local environmental infrastructure upgrades, cost effective water quality cleanup projects and flooding and stormwater solutions, state park, recreation and state forest maintenance needs and land conservation. And the public overwhelmingly supports it.
While Republicans and Democrats may disagree on how to fund needed green infrastructure, there can be no disputing the fact the needs are very real, and getting worse.
It is simply not acceptable to just say no. Viable, realistic alternatives that aren’t gimmicks or industry subsidies like almost all Republican proposals are-- Senate Bill 575, Senate Bill 716 and Senate Bill 717.
Legislative leaders and Governors like Dick Thornburgh (Water Facilities Loan Board $1.5 billion), Robert Casey (PennVEST, Hazardous Sites Cleanup, Recycling, Keystone Fund, Agriculture Preservation Program), Tom Ridge (Growing Greener I), Mark Schweiker (Growing Greener-Expanded) and Tom Corbett (Act 13 drilling impact fee) found bipartisan solutions to fund desperately needed green infrastructure, why can’t the Harrisburg politicians of today?
Funding local environmental improvement and recreation projects, providing real help to farms to install conservation practices, supporting mine reclamation efforts and taking care of our State Parks and Forests maintenance needs will be the fundamental yardstick used to measure of whether House and Senate members succeeded on environmental issues in 2020.
Reauthorize Federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee: The federal abandoned mine reclamation fee, which provides the bulk of the funding for Pennsylvania’s abandoned mine lands cleanup program, is due to expire in 2021. Environmental, wildlife, states and many other groups support its reauthorization, but Congress is a mess and pressure needs to be brought on them to act. Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, introduced Senate Resolution 191 and Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) introduced House Resolution 439 to urge Congress to reauthorize the fee and the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. This is a bipartisan issue that deserves support and is definitely on the good list. Click Here for more.
Keystone Tree Fund: Both House Bill 374 (Everett-R- Lycoming) and Senate Bill 108 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) creating a $3 checkoff on drivers and vehicle licenses to support DCNR’s TreeVitalize and riparian buffer planting programs are in the Senate awaiting action. The bills are a bipartisan initiative being pushed by Pennsylvania members of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission to provide at least a trickle of money to support these cost effective water pollution reduction programs. The bills deserve to pass. Let them figure out which one. Click Here for more.
Lawn Fertilizer Legislation: In May, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, circulated a co-sponsor memo saying he planned to introduce legislation to regulate the application of lawn fertilizers and certify applicators as a bipartisan initiative of the Pennsylvania members of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission. The legislation is also recommended in DEP’s final Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. The bill has not been introduced yet, but will be worth encouraging as a good thing to pass. Click Here for more.
Bipartisan Pipeline Safety Bills: Both the Senate and House have a long list of bipartisan pipeline safety legislation pending for obvious reasons-- Mariner East 2 Pipeline construction, a Beaver County pipeline explosion and more. These incidents have raised serious issues about pipeline routes, safety plans and much more. Yet, no pipeline bills have moved, even though they have bipartisan sponsorship. There are lots of good bills, pick some and move them. Did we mention they’re bipartisan? Click Here for a list of bipartisan bills and background.
Community Solar: Both the Senate-- Senate Bill 705 (Scavello-R-Monroe)-- and the House-- House Bill 531 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne)-- have bipartisan legislation authorizing community solar projects which allow neighbors, businesses, farms, and other community members to directly participate in and receive the benefits from a solar project connected to their local electric distribution company’s grid. Doesn’t cost anything, should be easy. Click Here for more.
Act 129 Energy Efficiency Program Expansion: Both the Senate-- Senate Bill 232 (Killion-R-Delaware)-- and House-- House Bill 193 (Quinn-R-Montgomery)-- have introduced bipartisan proposals to expand the Act 129 electric utility energy efficiency program that yielded $6.4 billion in consumer savings and benefits in its first 7 years of operations. While there may be other versions in the offing, this would be a good issue to address saving regular taxpayers and small business real money. Note: There is a bad bill associated with this issue-- Senate Bill 129 (Boscola-D-Lehigh)-- that would exempt certain large electricity users from the Act 129 program. Click Here for background based on last session’s bills.
Climate/Renewable Energy Bills: There are lots of renewable energy, Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard, greenhouse gas reduction bills introduced in the Senate and House, including one of the only bipartisan bills in the country to require the Commonwealth to get 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. These are a big lift with lots of moving parts, big policy decisions and big money involved. Pieces could get caught up in the debate over nuclear power plant subsidy legislation (see below)-- like Gov. Wolf’s last minute proposal in June to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. They’re on the (wish) list more as a heads-up. Click Here for more on the individual bills pending.
Farmland Preservation-Wind Energy: The bipartisan House Bill 441 (Sonney-R-Erie) amending the Agricultural Area Security Law to allow wind energy facilities on preserved farmland (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate and would support the development of wind energy facilities and help farmers keep their land in farming.
Lead Poisoning Testing, Prevention: The bipartisan Senate Task Force on Lead Exposure came out with a report in May recommending a series of actions and legislation to require lead testing of children, schools, drinking water, lead hazard removal and other initiatives. It’s a long list, many requiring money. Some of the bills haven’t yet been introduced, but some have. An issue to watchout for with real health benefits for kids and parents. Click Here for more.
Flood Insurance Task Force: The bipartisan House Bill 328 (Warren-D- Bucks) establishing a Flood Insurance Premium Assistance Task Force (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate. The federal Flood Insurance Program is vital to protecting Pennsylvania property and businesses. In 2017, the Center for Rural Pennsylvania issued a report saying heavy precipitation events increased by 71 percent over the last 50 years and 831,000 Pennsylvania residents are living at risk on floodplains. It went on to make recommendations for improving the Flood Insurance Program. This should not be another study that sits on a shelf and a Task Force could help address many of these issues. Click Here for more.
Allow Wildlife Commissions To Set Their Own Fees: The issue of allowing the Game and Fish and Boat Commissions to set their own license fees is squarely in the Senate. Senate Bill 553 (Stefano-R-Fayette) authorizing the Game Commission and House Bill 808 (Mehaffie-R- Dauphin) and Senate Bill 553 (Stefano-R-Fayette) allowing the Fish and Boat Commission to set fees for 3 years are all in the Senate Appropriations Committee. It would be very good for wildlife and the commissions to get this issue behind us and all 3 bills have bipartisan support. Click Here for more.
Sunday Deer Hunting: This is another wildlife issue that needs to be resolved and it is now up to the House to consider it in the form of Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R-Erie). The House Game and Fisheries Committee has a hearing set on the bill September 10 to listen to all sides. The Game Commission has already authorized the first-ever Saturday opening of deer season-- skipping Sunday-- and small game hunting is already allowed on Sunday, so it’s not like hunters aren’t in the field. This issue also has bipartisan support. Visit the PA Federation of Sportsmen & Conservationists website for background on this issue.
Removing Game Lands Purchase Cap: The bipartisan House Bill 752 (Turzai-R-Allegheny) removing the purchase price cap on state game lands (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate and would modernize the Game Commission’s state game lands program enabling the protection of more habitat for hunting and recreation.
Lyme Disease Insurance Coverage: The bipartisan House Bill 629 (Rapp-R-Warren) requires health insurers to cover treatment plans for Lyme disease or related tick-borne illnesses as prescribed by a patient’s health care practitioner, regardless if the treatment plan includes short-term or long-term antibiotic treatment (House Fiscal Note and summary) and is now in the Senate. In the last 6 years, Pennsylvania has ranked highest in the country in the number of confirmed cases of Lyme disease. In 2016 Pennsylvania reported 12,200 cases of Lyme disease, about 40 percent of the nation’s cases. This bill will help patients get the treatment they need as a warming climate increases the threat from tickborne diseases. Click Here to learn about Pennsylvania’s new 5-year tickborne illness study.
PennDOT-Native Vegetation: The bipartisan House Bill 447 (B.Miller-R-Lancaster) requires PennDOT to plant native vegetation along state highways (House Fiscal Note and summary) is now in the Senate. This would help support PennDOT’s new Adopt-And-Beautify option in the Adopt-A-Highway Program and help implement the agency’s Pollinator Habitat Plan. Click Here for more.
Bad & Ugly Bills ===========================================
Turn Back Regulation Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wells To 1984: Both the Senate-- Senate Bill 790 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson)-- and the House-- House Bill 1635 (Causer-R-Cameron)-- have Republican bills that are different, but essentially do the same thing-- turn back the regulation of conventional (not Shale gas) oil and gas wells to 1984 because they think they are doing a good job protecting the environment. Members need to be reminded conventional oil and gas drillers have gotten steadily worse at complying with environmental requirements-- between 2015 and 2017 the number of violations tripled. This is one of the VERY bills, clearly introduced for and written (mostly) by the conventional oil and gas industry. Click Here for more on Senate bill. Click Here for more on the House bill.
Fundamental Crippling The Definition Of Water Pollution: Senate Republicans passed Senate Bill 619 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) in June making 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. The bill is now in the House. The bill would benefit conventional oil and gas drillers and a certain pharmaceutical firm in the Southeast (you’ll have to guess which one). In spite of attempts by the prime sponsor to clarify “misinformation” about the bill, people are reading the black and white of the language and shuttering. Put this in the VERY ugly list. Click Here for more.
Paying Gas Rights Owners In Delaware Watershed $10 Billion: Both the Senate-- Senate Bill 305 (Baker-R-Luzerne)-- and House-- House Bill 827 (Fritz-R-Wayne)-- have Republican bills in position to move that would declare preemptively, by legislation, any action by the Delaware River Basin Commission to adopt a moratorium on fracking in the watershed as a taking and require DRBC to compensate property owners for the value of those rights at a minimum cost the House sponsor said would be $10 billion or more. Republican Senate members have also tried to intervene personally in a federal lawsuit on this issue on the side of oil and gas rights owners. This kind of coercion sets a very bad precedent for an issue-- takings-- that is usually left to the courts to sort out in individual cases with specific facts. This one is definitely on the ugly list. Click Here for more.
Pretend Solution To Fund Chesapeake Bay Cleanup: Senate Republicans passed Senate Bill 575 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) establishing a taxpayer funded procurement program for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions needed to comply with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed pollution reduction goals. Sounds reasonable until you understand only big companies with lots of resources and way too expensive nutrient reduction solutions (compared to a dozen other options) would be eligible to bid. It guarantees taxpayers would pay for the most expensive nutrient reduction options. The bill was introduced with the support of the Coalition For Affordable Bay Solutions, an industry-led coalition of private companies promoting their manure treatment technologies and manure to energy processing plants. The bill is now in the House where a companion House version also sits-- House Bill 1642 (Everett-R-Lycoming). These are not only bad bills, but they masquerade as a way of reducing compliance costs-- not! Click Here for more.
Neutering Environmental Regulations Saying It’s Reform: High on the House and Senate Republican priority list is doing all they can to make the process of adopting regulations as difficult and nearly impossible as they can. In April House Republicans passed bills that--
-- Allowed the General Assembly to kill regulations by doing nothing (Senate Republicans have a similar bill this session-- Senate Bill 5 (DiSanto-R-Dauphin)-- and passed it last session-- Senate Bill 561 (DiSanto-R-Dauphin);
-- Allow a new bureaucracy to waive penalties;
-- Provide defenses for violators who just “try” to comply; and
-- Create a new bureaucracy for third party permit reviews.
Although part of the House Republican Natural Gas Subsidy package (see below), we can’t forget House Bill 1107 (O’Neal-R- Washington) that emasculates the environmental protection permit review and standard setting process replacing it with a politically appointed 5-member panel.
All these bills are on the VERY ugly and expensive list. Click Here for more.
Misleading The Public About Vehicle Emission Inspection Program Changes: Senate Bill 742 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) exempting vehicles from emissions testing for 8 years after manufacturing; Senate Bill 743 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) replace annual emission inspections with inspections every 2 years for vehicles more than 8 years old; Senate Bill 744 (Langerholc- R-Bedford) exempt Blair, Cambria, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Lycoming, Mercer, and Westmoreland Counties from the vehicle emissions testing; Senate Bill 745 (Stefano-R-Fayette) replace the tailpipe test in Pittsburgh and the 2-speed idle test via a dynamometer/treadmill in the Philadelphia region with a gas cap test and a visual inspection for model year 1994-95 vehicles; Senate Bill 746 (Vogel-R-Beaver) extend the transition date for existing emissions inspection stations that are required by the Department of Transportation to obtain new emissions testing equipment by November 1, 2019 to July 1, 2021 [This bill does not, at least, direct PennDOT to do an unlawful act.] (sponsor summary of package) were passed by the Senate and are now in the House. These bills are misleading because most of what they propose is prohibited by federal law. These are on the bad and misleading list. Click Here for more.
Nuclear Power Plant Subsidies: In spite of the fact Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Plant is closing, FirstEnergy and Exelon are continuing to push very hard to heavily subsidize their other nuclear plants in the state. The Republican bills-- House Bill 11 (Mehaffie-R-Dauphin) and Senate Bill 510 (Aument-R-Lancaster)-- would cost electric ratepayers $3 billion over the first 6 years of the program. As written they protect the status quo, don’t encourage energy efficiency, renewable energy or put a price on carbon emissions like similar subsidies in some other states do. These bills are on the bad and couldn’t we do A WHOLE LOT better list? Click Here for the record of many House and Senate hearings on this issue where everyone called the idea bad news, except for those connected to the nuclear industry.
Natural Gas Subsidies: In April, House Republicans introduced a comprehensive 8-bill package with almost every subsidy for the use of natural gas you can think of (well maybe not all of them, yet), calling the package “Energize PA.” It includes a bill-- House Bill 1107 (O’Neal-R- Washington) to emasculate environmental protection permit review and standard setting by creating a 5-member politically appointed Commission named by the Senate, House and Governor to do the job DEP does now. (Why do today’s Republicans always want to start an issue by cutting environmental protection?) Parts of the package have moved in the House, most have not, but watch for these bills. House Speaker Turzai (R-Allegheny) has called this an alternative to Gov. Wolf’s Restore PA Infrastructure proposal, which of course, it clearly isn’t. These are on the ugly AND giving taxpayer money away for what they’re doing anyway list. Click Here for more.
Coal Refuse-Fired Electric Generation Subsidy: Senate Bill 618 (Argall-R-Schuylkill, Yudichak-D-Luzerne) to increase the Coal Refuse Energy and Reclamation Tax from $10 to $45 million a year. Coal refuse plants are a good thing, but if we’re going to spend at extra $35 million a year is this the right use for it? This falls on the it isn’t quite bad list, but is it the best way to spend taxpayer money? Click Here for more.
Reporting Damage From Underground Coal Mining By DEP Optional: Senate Bill 763 (Bartolotta-R-Washington) amends the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act (Act 54) to make reporting on impacts of underground coal mining optional. The bill is still in the Senate. How are the public and General Assembly supposed to evaluate the effectiveness of Act 54 if DEP isn’t required to report regularly on these impacts? This is a bad bill and leaves us puzzled about why it was even introduced and for whose benefit? Click Here for more.
Exempting Religious Facilities From Safe Drinking Water Standards: House Bill 707 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster) would exempt religious facilities, schools and camps from state Safe Drinking Water requirements on grounds, apparently, their religious rights need to be protected. At a June 12 House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee information meeting, several institutions outlined the difficulties they’ve had complying with DEP drinking water directives, but they did comply. DEP noted the exemption would violate federal law and a provision of state law requiring compliance with federal requirements. The bill itself is on the bad bill list, but there underlying compliance policies at DEP that need to be addressed. Click Here for more.
20 Day Reviews Of DEP Erosion & Sedimentation Permits: House Bill 414 (Zimmerman-R- Lancaster) requiring an erosion and sedimentation permit application submitted to DEP or conservation districts “shall be approved within 20 days of receipt,” if it was submitted by a state licensed engineer (sponsor summary).
Almost all erosion and sedimentation control permits are submitted by engineers. DEP studies of erosion and encroachment permits outside of oil and gas program found 80 percent of the applications were not complete and 30 percent had technical deficiencies in 2016.
A DEP review of erosion and sedimentation permits related to oil and gas operations found 60 percent of the applications were incomplete or had technical deficiencies in 2017.
The Cumberland County Conservation District testified before the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on May 1 saying more than half the applications it receives are incomplete and consultants take an average of 6 weeks to get back to them to correct mistakes.
Since these initial reports, DEP has worked with the consulting community to improve the applications they submit and has taken steps toward converting to electronic permit submissions to cut down on the number of incomplete and deficient applications received by DEP from engineers.
The bill is Tabled for now in the House, but it could resurface at any time. It’s on the bad AND arbitrary bill list. Click Here for more.
As noted, this isn’t a comprehensive list, many other things can pop up along the way, hopefully for the better, but sometimes for the worse.
Let’s hope we’re lucky and Harrisburg politicians think a little bit about the good of the Commonwealth.
At least you can keep score now.
(Written By: David E. Hess, former Secretary of DEP. Send comments and suggestions to add to this list to: PaEnviroDigest@gmail.com.)
[Posted: September 8, 2019]
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