PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

Regulatory Reforms Would Roll Back Environmental and Health Protections

Pennsylvania’s legislators appear eager to overhaul how the Commonwealth reviews and implements state law. Don’t be distracted. The winners of their latest proposals would likely be polluters — at the expense of public health and the environment.

Too often, regulations get a bad rap. Seen as burdensome to some, in truth, regulations are merely administrative tools to achieve the General Assembly’s policy goals. Regulations allow us to adapt laws to changing times and to ensure new laws are implemented in ways that are safe, fair and legal. 

Permits seem to be in their crosshairs as well. Onerous “red tape” to some, in fact, permits are designed to ensure state laws are respected and enforced equitably and effectively.  Undermining the process to develop new regulations and implement permits puts Pennsylvania’s air and water, workers, consumers, health and economy at risk. That’s why the latest proposals are so worrisome.

HB 139 (Rothman – R, Cumberland County) mandates that state agencies contract with third-party “professionals” to review certain permit applications. In practice, the bill would force the already time and cash-strapped Department of Environmental Protection to create a third-party review program. 

Instead of expediting the review process, this would simply undermine it. Outsourcing reviews of federally delegated permits would likely be illegal. And, given the lack of any conflict-of-interest provisions, the legislation would enable polluters to review their own requests to go on polluting.

HB 288 (O’Neal – R, Washington County) would require agencies designate a “regulatory compliance officer” empowered to establish guidelines for waiving fines or penalties. A polluter would simply need to self report their own violation prior to being penalized. Waiving fines and penalties may be appropriate in some circumstances. But those decisions should be made using a thorough and transparent process by agency officials who are publicly accountable. Otherwise, this proposal risks creating a simple get-out-of-jail-free card for anyone who pollutes.

HB 939 (Klunk – R, York County) is another regulatory rollback that, last year, PennFuture and other environmental groups across the state helped to defeat. In this year’s version, the bill would add another layer of bureaucracy to the General Assembly by creating a new review board, potentially creating tension with the current committee system. Originally, this bill would have also established a nonsense rule that, for every new regulation promulgated by an agency, two existing regulations would need to be repealed. Due to widespread public pushback, the prime sponsor of the bill amended out this dangerous provision to make it more palatable for the House to pass.

Other proposals we’re fighting back against include two proposals that we consider unconstitutional attempts to take power from the executive branch. HB 72 (Keefer – R, York and Cumberland Counties) would require House or Senate approval of final-form regulations, essentially giving each chamber a veto over new regulations if they cost more than $1 million to implement the protection. HB 950 (Metcalfe – R, Butler County) would weaken permitting and rulemaking abilities by prohibiting state agencies from reissuing regulations. 

Too often, leaders in the General Assembly decry the overreach and burden of regulations and permits. But at the same time, budget cuts and wrongheaded legislative proposals limit the abilities for our state agencies to do their job. 

Rather than helping to create more efficient and effective government, these latest proposals create extraneous and added layers of bureaucracy, impede the roles of our executive branch agencies, and undermine the protections enforced and implemented by our state government.  

PennFuture will continue to post updates as these counter-productive proposals make their way through the General Assembly. 

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