Senate Bill 545 (P.N. 563) pertains to reporting requirements of unintended releases (for example, spills or discharges) of substances (chemicals, wastes, or other products) at permitted sites or operations. This bill is a reintroduction of legislation from last session (then Senate Bill 619) that PEC opposed. Last year’s bill was much more far-reaching in that it curtailed the long-standing definition of ‘pollution’ under the Clean Streams Law. SB 545 takes a different approach by tasking the Environmental Quality Board with promulgating standards for reporting of releases. While the design of SB545 is more functional, there are still many unresolved issues with this legislation.
In many instances, the Department of Environmental Protection has already established specific reportable quantities for a variety of programs. In addition, many permitted activities must have pollution prevention and contingency plans that spell out obligations for what to report and to whom, for managing releases, and for notifying downstream water users. To a large degree, this legislation is redundant with current requirements.
Further, there are open questions as to whether new regulations would need to be adopted for each and every regulated substance for a release to now be reported. If so, that process could take years – creating considerable risk to the public and environment. In addition, the legislation appears to create a presumption that operators are allowed to decide, on their own, whether any initial remediation actions taken alleviate the need to report a release to the permitting agency.
So while on its face Senate Bill 545 seems more reasonable than prior legislation, it still creates uncertainty that weakens state protections and likely runs afoul of federal law. For these reasons, PEC opposes this legislation.