07/27/2017

PennFuture Statement: Budget Deal Prioritizes Gas Industry

July 27, 2017; HARRISBURG, PA – PennFuture strongly opposes the budget deal passed by the Senate today, which takes environmental protection away from statewide watchdogs and places regulatory power into the hands of the oil and gas industry and legislative leaders.
 
Clean air and pure water is clearly no longer a priority to the legislature. For more than ten years, policymakers have eviscerated budgets for conservation and environmental protection, and now the Senate plans to put the final nail in the coffin.
 
The plan guts the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of its already dwindling, but remaining, power to protect citizens from pollution and regulate the natural gas industry. The kicker: the legislature wants citizens to pay for it with a new consumer tax. 
 
This plan weakens regulations protecting drinking water from coal mine pollution, pipelines, and gas wells. It allows oil and gas wastewater treatment facilities to operate under expired permits, and takes away DEP’s ability to properly assess permits that protect our drinking water and the air we breathe. 
 
While further polluting our air and water, the budget deal asks for citizens to pay for it by raising taxes on electricity, cell phones, and homes that use natural gas for heating.
 
“This budget deal puts our communities at risk, whether they’re dealing with the impacts of pipeline development, gas wells, or industrial pollution. It reveals the worst of polluter power in Harrisburg, giving oil and gas companies an easy path to do what they want in your communities. Pennsylvania will be in a league of its own when it comes to the weakest capacity to protect our air, water and land,” said PennFuture President and CEO Larry J. Schweiger.
 
In total, House Bill 542, House Bill 118, and House Bill 453 represent a budget deal that implements a very small severance tax on natural gas as well as higher taxes on consumer energy and cell phone bills in exchange for neutering environmental protection. 
 
It allows industry third party representatives to approve pollution permits, allows legislative leaders to veto pollution permits through a newly created Advisory Committee, and forces DEP to approve permits for pipelines, gas wells, and other activities within a set amount of time, even if they’re not up to standards.
 
“Without a doubt, this puts into question Pennsylvania’s ability to mitigate a host of pollution concerns, including methane, water impacts from pipelines and gas wells, and discharges from industrial sources,” said PennFuture Policy Director Matthew Stepp.
 
These types of regulatory changes have been tried in the past and have failed, but would now be in effect for all of DEP’s pollution programs. 
 
“It represents the height of legislative arrogance. The environmental protection agencies have been emasculated through budget deals for more than a decade, and now the legislature aims to gut the DEP of any of its remaining ability to do its job completely,” continued Stepp.
 
Here is how the deal breaks down by Code bill:
 
House Bill 118 (Administrative Code)
  • Extends the Recycling Fee until 2023.
  • Closes the Solar Renewable Energy Credit borders.
  • Directs Environmental Hearing Board to promulgate regulations for manganese discharges only within five miles of a drinking water supply.
  • Allows conventional oil and gas waste water treatment operations to operate under expired NPDES permits until 2019.
  • Requires Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to study efficacy of creating a state park in Wyoming County.
House Bill 542 (Tax Code)
  • Severance tax on natural gas ranging from 1.5 to 3.5 cents per mcf, tagged to the price of gas; in addition to the Impact Fee.
  • Creates an Air Quality Permit Advisory Committee (7 members, 6 appointed by House and Senate) to approve all air permits from oil and gas operations. This essentially provides legislative veto authority over oil and gas permits.
  • Mandates that the DEP create, at its own cost, a third party environmental permit review program. The program will review and approve permits. These reviewers are given full power, as if they worked at DEP.
  • Requires DEP to review all unconventional oil and gas permits within 45 days and general permits within 30 days, and Erosion & Sediment Control permits within 53 days. If not denied within those time periods, the permits are deemed automatically approved.
  • New Gross Receipts Tax on natural gas consumers. Takes $20 million of the revenue for PA Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
  • Makes the Wild Conservation Tax Checkoff permanent.
House Bill 453 (Fiscal Code)
  • Transfers $30 million from the VW settlement to the General Fund.
  • Reduces transfers to the Environmental Stewardship Fund by $15 million.
  • Allows municipal authorities to replace private water and sewer laterals.
  • Requires Auditor General to audit the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and requires the SRBC to pay for it.
  • Transfers $6 million from the PA Building Program to the Natural Gas Pipeline Fund.
  • Repeals drilling moratorium expiration date in South Newark Basin.
  • Changes how royalties are paid during temporary cessation of oil and gas wells.
PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania and beyond. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations. For more information, visit www.pennfuture.org.
 
Contact: Stephanie Rex
Director of Communications
Cell: 412.463.2942
rex@pennfuture.org