Earlier this month the General Assembly passed an overall spending framework for the state budget. Governor Wolf allowed this legislation to become law without his signature. Over the past several weeks, negotiations have turned toward how to pay for, and implement, that spending framework.
Yesterday (July 27th) the Senate passed a series of amended House bills that would complete implementation of the state budget. These bills now go back to the House for additional consideration, and further possible amendment, before a concurrence vote occurs.
A number of riders have been attached to these bills that dramatically affect environmental permitting and protection in Pennsylvania. PEC has actively opposed these amendments (see our communications here and here), as well as the potential for diversions of conservation and recreation funding.
These riders include the following:
Tax Code Legislation (House Bill 542, P.N. 2259)
- The establishment of a legislatively-appointed review committee that would have sole authority to prohibit the enactment of air quality permit controls for the unconventional gas industry. [starting at page 78, line 26 of the legislation]
- Requiring the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to establish a third party permitting program. In other words, allowing permitting decisions to be made by private individuals. The legislation does not include any safeguards against self-dealing, does not address the qualifications of these individuals, nor ensure opportunity for public comment in permitting decisions. [starting at page 82, line 27 of the legislation]
- Allowing for “deemed approval” of unconventional oil and gas permits if DEP fails to take final action on a permit application within a prescribed number of days. [starting on page 77, line 23 of the legislation]
Administrative Code Legislation (House Bill 118, P.N. 2256)
- Requiring the Environmental Quality Board to promulgate new water quality regulations for manganese that more tightly limit where the water criteria will be applied. [starting on page 54, line 12 of the legislation]
- Allowing for continued operation for water treatment facilities that provide disposal services to the conventional oil and gas industry by extending already expired permits. [starting on page 55, line 12 of the legislation]
What do these amendments have in common? For starters, not one of them was discussed in an open legislative committee meeting or hearing. No public notice or opportunity for comment was provided before their inclusion as amendments into state budget legislation. None, in fact, are necessary or even related to implementation of the state budget.
Further, they all potentially violate some aspect of existing state or federal law, including our state’s constitution. In all likelihood, if they are passed into law, they will rightfully be challenged in court.
PEC opposes these amendments. Even on their own merits, they represent bad public policy that arbitrarily constrains environmental protections. Incorporating them into (past due) budget legislation, with no explanation or meaningful opportunity for dialogue, is a further affront to the public.
Some of these amendments are meant to address permitting processes at DEP. As PEC has consistently stated in the past, we believe the regulated community deserves the same level of accountability and responsiveness in permitting decisions as the public deserves in permit oversight and enforcement. Improvements must be made. However, the changes that would be made by these amendments would only create havoc at an agency that, for more than a decade, has not been given the resources it needs to perform even its most basic functions. The amendments will most certainly lead to greater inconsistencies in permit decision-making and overall environmental protection.
YOUR VOICE COUNTS – MAKE IT HEARD