Policy Update: Missed Opportunities

With the legislature out for the summer, here’s the status of key policy items
July 6, 2021

John Walliser, Senior VP, Legal & Government Affairs

At the end of June, the General Assembly hurriedly presented a budget package, passed it, and adjourned for the summer. Due to federal assistance provided through the American Recovery Act, this year’s state budget didn’t generate the usual drama. But the quick closure also meant several other opportunities were left unmet.

Here’s where key items stand until the legislature returns in the fall:

State Budget

Federal support from the American Recovery Act and record revenue returns for the General Fund helped stave off any budgetary raids on programs like the Environmental Stewardship Fund or Keystone Fund. However, the General Assembly did not leverage any of this newfound opportunity to make investments in public resources or recreational infrastructure – despite the overwhelming need to do so. In fact, the legislature only appropriated $2.3 billion of the $7 billion received from the federal government; and allocated $2.5 billion of the state surplus to the state rainy day fund.

The needs are many. Pennsylvania’s legacy costs from abandoned mine lands and acid mine drainage, as well as unplugged orphaned oil and gas wells, total in the tens of billions of dollars. Estimates for repair and improvement costs for state parks and forests exceed $1 billion. Communities facing stormwater, flooding, and water quality challenges underscore the need for support. These needs are also opportunities to create jobs and directly benefit communities.

Two bills proposed in the Senate this spring (SB525; Pending Bill) would direct a portion of American Recovery Act funds towards environmental and recreation programs. That conversation will hopefully pick up in the fall. Other states have already put those federal dollars to work to expand the benefits of the recreational economy, which is of critical importance to Pennsylvania (see here and here).

Energy

The theme of missed opportunities held true with other legislation, notably on efforts to advance clean energy.

Legislation that would promote community solar (notably, HB1555) did not receive consideration. We highlighted the benefits of community solar in an episode of our Pennsylvania Legacies podcast, and the legislation is supported by a wide arrange of interests – from farmers looking to sustain working lands to residents who are unable to install solar panels on their townhouses or apartments.

Similarly, legislation that would jump-start deployment of electric vehicle infrastructure (notably, SB435) also did not advance. Electric vehicles are surging in popularity and are even being built here in Pennsylvania. Our state needs to take the steps necessary to meet demand and ensure adequate buildout of accessible facilities like charging stations near public highways.

There are also harmful bills in the legislature that would hamper our state’s move toward a clean energy economy, including SB119 and HB637. These companion bills would allow the General Assembly to effortlessly block any measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. You can read our reasons for opposing this legislation here.

On the positive side, legislation has also been announced (SB15 and HB1565) that would utilize proceeds gained from Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to propel clean energy investment, help workers and communities with energy transitioning, and address impacts to frontline communities. PEC supports this initiative, as well as the Administration’s proposal to link with RGGI.

Water

Legislation (SB251) that would update standards for fertilizer application passed the Senate in May, but was not taken up by the House prior to summer recess. PEC supports this legislation, which was developed through an inclusive stakeholder process and will protect water quality in our state (including meeting federal Chesapeake Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan requirements).

Conversely, legislation (SB545) that would weaken water protection standards with respect to spills and other releases of pollution is moving ahead in the Senate. You can read why we oppose this bill here.

Recreation

Legislation (HB140) that would provide greater protection for cyclists passed the House early in the year, but has not yet received consideration in the Senate. PEC supports this bill.

In addition, a bill (HB1694) that would expand liability protections for landowners, organizations, and volunteers who provide public recreation opportunities was introduced in the House in June. PEC supports this legislation and will be advocating for consideration in the fall.

Environmental Protections

A wide range of bills that would hamper regulatory or permitting protections have been introduced in the legislature, and are making their way through respective chambers. You can read our rundown of these bills (and why we oppose many of them) here. One of the most troubling bills is HB1144, which would dramatically rollback protection standards applied to the conventional oil and gas industry. You can read our letter in opposition to this ill-advised and unnecessary legislation here.

And More!

PEC is engaged on several other state and federal efforts, including a rulemaking to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations (PEC comments); federal clean energy and infrastructure incentives, and much more. You can keep tabs on all environmental and recreation bills on PEC’s Bill Tracker, and follow us on Twitter @pecpa or visit the policy section of our website to stay up-to-date on our work.


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