Pennsylvania Environmental Council: Policy Priorities for 2015

January 23, 2015

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Tom Wolf has been sworn in as Pennsylvania’s 47th Governor and the focus in Harrisburg can now move past campaigns and ceremony to the difficult task at hand: governing a state with a projected $2.3 billion deficit.

Tough questions and choices lie ahead, including how the new Governor and General Assembly can enhance our environment when Pennsylvania is at an important crossroads with respect to climate change, watershed protection, and resource stewardship. What follows are the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s (PEC) top priorities for 2015. We look forward to working with the Governor, his cabinet, and the General Assembly to achieve these priorities.

Lead on Climate Change
Climate change is occurring, with environmental and economic impacts already being felt within our state. It would be inexcusable for leadership in Harrisburg to ignore this reality and fail to act given that Pennsylvania is a globally significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

Given our current broad-based energy portfolio, Pennsylvania is, in many respects, the poster child for the challenges inherent in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Based on actions already taken here and elsewhere, we have witnessed the economic and environmental benefits in making those reductions. However, it will require bold steps to advance consequential policies and practices. Even with the federal government establishing a framework for doing so, Pennsylvania must embrace a leadership role; elements of the foundation are already in place:

  • The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act, inspired in no small part by PEC’s own Climate Change Roadmap, requires the state to develop and continually update a plan to advance policies for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Pennsylvania has dropped the ball on this responsibility, giving little support to the objectives of the Act and the substance of the plan. The state must recommit funding and focus to this effort to help inform implementation of the federal Clean Power Plan.
  • Update and increase the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, particularly the Tier I standards, which, since their enactment in 2004, have fallen dramatically behind the goals set by other states.
  • Build upon the energy efficiency and demand reduction progress made pursuant to Act 129 of 2008. This must include adjusting the rate-making structure for electric utilities to encourage energy efficiency, and also to include natural gas utilities under the Act. A number of innovative strategies such as on-bill financing for efficiency can generate win-win scenarios for consumers in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania must also look to design and implement new strategies to reduce our emissions footprint, including:

  •  Enact strong controls on methane emissions from existing and new sources within natural gas production and transport.
  •  Investigate the potential of regional partnerships like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to help Pennsylvania more effectively achieve emission reduction targets.
  •  Mandate green building standards for state-funded projects, and adopt the most up-to-date state building code to promote efficiency.

Improve and Implement Stronger Natural Gas Regulation
Three years after passage of new statutory protections, Pennsylvania still has not finalized improved regulations for oversight of unconventional natural gas development. This inordinate delay has prevented Pennsylvania from implementing critical controls on ongoing activity and has negated the adaptive management capability of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to adopt leading practices.

The state must quickly improve and finalize its rulemaking proposal, including enhanced Area of Review analysis, better tracking of wastewater treatment and disposal, and more protective containment standards for the industry. Further, the DEP must advance improved measures for protection of water bodies and public resources given recent court decisions on Act 13 of 2012 and the Environmental Rights Amendment.

Reinvigorate Water Resource Protection
Pennsylvania’s water resources are challenged by conflicting demands and a vast array of pollution and consumptive use pressures. Meeting these challenges will require better evaluation of uses and stressors, both now and into the future. Pennsylvania’s current approach to water management is disjointed, with disparate programs that were adopted at different points in time to address limited issues. Despite initial attempts to consolidate planning and protection, those efforts have fallen short. Water resources are renewable only when protected and managed properly: we are currently failing that standard.

  • The Water Resources Planning Act (Act 220) was enacted in 2002 to address the gap in Pennsylvania’s approach to water resources by providing a comprehensive framework at both the regional and state level to evaluate needs, identify problems, and recommend solutions. Unfortunately, implementation of Act 220 has fallen well short of its mandate due to lack of funding and administrative support. The new Administration must reinvigorate Act 220 so it may reach its purpose and potential in setting an operative and cohesive framework for protecting our water resources.
  • Fully commit to the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort through the state Watershed Improvement Plan and sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements.
  • Provide sufficient resources to DEP so the agency can provide necessary technical review and oversight to local governments to help them meet stormwater permit and TMDL requirements.
  • Further encourage regional planning and collaboration at the county and local government levels.
  •  Restore support for local watershed groups involved in watershed restoration and abandoned mine reclamation projects to take advantage of local interest and to stretch state funding dollars.

Reestablish a Moratorium on State Forest Leasing
Leasing of state forestland for unconventional natural gas drilling in 2008 and 2010 was driven by the desire for revenue to balance the state budget, and in 2014 the General Assembly again called for additional leasing revenues without regard to the consequences to our most ecologically important public lands. This dependence is not only shortsighted, it is potentially in violation of the Environmental Rights Amendment in the Pennsylvania Constitution. State forestland should never be directed solely for revenue exploitation.

Last year the state completed a first step in assessing the impacts of unconventional development; work that is still being informed and improved by ongoing analysis from public and private partners.

For these reasons, and to avoid further unnecessary and unconsidered impacts, the Governor and Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) must prohibit any additional allowance of development on state forestland until full analysis is performed – including examination of current activity. The public trust doctrine embodied in the Environmental Rights Amendment establishes an extraordinary and mandatory threshold for the agency in this analysis.

Stop Environmental Lawmaking via the State Budget
The General Assembly has made a purposeful practice of inserting controversial environmental provisions into the state budget – allowing the legislature to effectively sidestep debate and voting on the merits of those individual measures. Last year the legislature included provisions relating to regulation of natural gas activity, as well as a requirement for legislative approval of the state’s eventual submission of an implementation plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the Clean Power Plan.

This practice is against good governance and undermines public trust. Legislation that affects rulemaking should be presented on its own merits – not buried in an “all or nothing” omnibus fiscal bill passed in the waning hours of state budget debates. The citizens of Pennsylvania deserve better from their elected representatives.

Renew the Financial Commitment to Environmental Programs
Over the past decade, our resource protection agencies have been asked to do more and more with dwindling budget appropriations to support their work. In addition, a number of restoration programs like Growing Greener have seen severe reductions in funding commitments by the state. These shortfalls hurt communities and the citizens of the Commonwealth by inhibiting the agencies’ abilities to perform their respective missions.

While this may not be an easily accepted issue given our current budget situation, the state’s fundamental commitment to protect the environment and steward our public resources must be equal in budgeting priorities, and prior shortfalls must be rectified. Any discussion of new revenue, including a severance tax, must help effectuate renewed investment in resource protection. The state should further craft a new strategy for funding of restoration efforts—one that is not dependent on further exploitation of those very same resources it aims to safeguard.

Pass Water Well Legislation
For several legislative sessions, widely-supported bipartisan legislation that would establish reasonable safeguards for the drilling and decommissioning of private water wells has failed to receive final consideration in the General Assembly. Allowing this activity to continue without minimal oversight places an untold number of Pennsylvanians at risk of drinking contaminated water. Legislation has already been re-introduced in the new session of the General Assembly; the legislature should quickly pass this important set of protections.


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