Thursday, November 23, 2017

House Appropriations Sets Dec. 14 Hearing On DEP, DCNR Use Of Special Funds

The House Appropriations Committee has scheduled three new hearings to continue its review of how state agencies use special funds to pay for grants and programs.  On December 14 the Committee is scheduled to question representatives of the departments of Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.
In September, House Republicans unveiled a plan to take over $450 million from environmental special funds to help balance the state budget.  They said these monies were “surplus” and “unused” when that was clearly not the case.
While that raid was not successful, the budget revenue package that ultimately passed on October 30 included a provision directing the Governor to transfer $300 million from special funds of his choosing to the General Fund to accomplish the same objective.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell told the Citizens Advisory Council November 14 he did not yet know if environmental funds would be impacted by the special fund transfers.
With the Independent Fiscal Office now projecting significant deficits in the state budget in each of the next five years starting with nearly $1 billion in next year’s budget, the threat to raid environmental and other special funds continues to be real.
In the letter requesting DEP and DCNR to appear for the hearing, Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York), Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said--
“Throughout this year's budget negotiations process, there have been many unanswered questions about the balances of these accounts and the expenditures of these accounts. The people of Pennsylvania deserve transparency when it comes to their tax dollars and the Appropriations Committee is determined to achieve that'
“During these hearings the committee will be taking an in-depth review of the special funds under the purview of both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
“Those funds include the Conservation District Fund, Coal Lands Improvement Fund, Energy Development Fund, Environmental Education Fund, Environmental Stewardship Fund, Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, Keystone Recreation Park and Conservation Fund, the Recycling Fund, and the Solid Waste-Resource Recovery Development Fund.
“lt is vital that you bring all necessary staff to answer questions about the revenues and expenditures that are related to the specified funds.
“Specifically, we are requesting DCNR Deputy Secretary for parks and Forestry John Norbeck; DCNR Director of the Bureau of Recreation and Conservation Tom Ford; DCNR Director of Administrative Services Stacie Amsler; DEP Executive Deputy Secretary for Administration and Management Darrin Bodner; DEP Bureau of Fiscal Management Director Tina Sutton; DEP Grants Center Director Michele Devaney to join you in front of the committee to answer questions on these special funds.
“Additionally, I am requesting that you submit documentation to the Committee by December 4, 2017 detailing current commitments in the Conservation District Fund, Coal Lands Improvement Fund, Environmental Education Fund, Environmental Stewardship Fund, Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, Keystone Recreation park and Conservation Fund, the Recycling Fund, and the Solid Waste-Resource Recovery Development Fund.
“Specifically, I am requesting that you detail in writing the currently open projects that have been awarded funding by 1) award date, 2) entity name, 3) project start date and 4) the anticipated date by which the funding will be expended.
“It is important that the committee and the viewing public be allowed to listen and respond to any information that is provided. Our desire is to have questions answered that day. Therefore, any unanswered questions will require the testifiers to come back and provide additional public testimony before the committee.”
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
The hearing will be held in Room G-50 of the Irvis Building from 9:30 to 12:30.  Committee hearings are typically webcast through the House Republican Caucus website.
Similar hearings have been scheduled for the Department of Transportation on December 7 and the Department of Community and Economic Development on December 13.
Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York) serves as Majority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-6426 or send email to:  Rep. Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny) serves as Minority Chair of the Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1540 or send email to:
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November Synopsis Newsletter Available From Joint Conservation Committee

-- Black Bear Hunting In Pennsylvania
-- Recycling During The Holiday Season
-- Calculating The Cost Of Extreme Weather Events
-- U.K. Pact To Reduce Clothing Industry Impacts On Track
-- Green Buildings Are Often Home To Indoor Air Pollution
-- Health Checkup For The Chesapeake Bay’s Fish Population
-- Click Here to sign up for your own copy.
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) serves as Chair of the Joint Conservation Committee.
For more information, visit the Joint Conservation Committee website, Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.

Thursday PA Environmental NewsClips

The Feds
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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

PA Supreme Court Upholds Part Of Senate Challenge To Governor’s Veto Authority On Procedural Grounds

The PA Supreme Court Wednesday issued an opinion reversing a Commonwealth Court ruling and upheld the Senate challenge to the veto of certain provisions of a Fiscal Code bill in 2014 by Gov. Corbett.
The challenge was brought by Senators Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), Senate President Pro Tempore; Jake Corman (R-Centre), Senate Majority Leader; and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Senate Minority Leader.
The PA Supreme Court’s decision, however, turned on a procedural issue and not on whether the Governor’s line-item veto authority actually extends to the Fiscal Code.  
The Court found the Governor did not follow the proper procedure for filing his veto with the General Assembly because the House and Senate had adjourned at the time.
Since the Governor did not follow the proper procedure and issue a formal proclamation as notice of his veto, the bill was never line-itemed vetoed.
The Court said, “Having determined that the Governor’s purported partial vetoes of the FCA and the GAA failed, we have no occasion to resolve whether the Governor’s line-item veto authority of Article IV, Section 16 extends to the FCA. The veto was ineffective in its entirety in any event. Accordingly, resolution of the last issue before us must await another day.”
The issue is significant because the General Assembly has piled more and more provisions in Fiscal Code bills directing the executive branch to take actions that were not otherwise passed by the General Assembly on their own.
Click Here for a copy of the opinion.

Researchers: New Fish Passage On Susquehanna River Dam Will Help Restore Fish Populations

By Jennifer Matthews, Penn State News

The addition of a nature-like fish passage to a Susquehanna River dam in Pennsylvania should allow migrating fish to more easily reach spawning grounds, according to Penn State researchers.
“The basic idea is to open up part of the dam and then let fishes go through,” said Xiaofeng Liu, assistant professor of civil engineering and lead principal investigator of the project. “It sounds so simple, but it's not. Fishes are very picky in terms of the flow speed, turbulence, fluctuation and even temperature and water quality. All of these things need to come together.”
Migratory fish trekking along the Susquehanna River from the Chesapeake Bay during spawning season used to be so abundant, they created a thriving commercial fishing industry. They were also a primary food source for Native Americans and helped early European settlers fight off starvation.
When the York Haven Dam was built in 1904, however, and three additional dams soon after, they shut off the river course, putting the fishing industry — and the future of the fish themselves — at risk of extinction.
Though some of the fish adapted and found alternative locations to lay their eggs, their populations have still plummeted.
Before the dam was built and humans polluted the river, tens of millions of fish swam against the current every year during the spring fish run.
In fact, in the spring of 1827, 15 million fish were caught at the river mouth, so many that some were turned into fertilizer.
However, by the 1980s, biologists estimated the population of remaining American shad, once the Susquehanna’s premier fish, to be in the thousands along the river and in the bay.
In the past several decades, efforts have been made to gradually reopen the river and its tributaries to migratory fish.
York Haven now uses a fish ladder, which enables fish to pass over the dam by swimming and leaping up a series of short steps, while the other three dams — Safe Harbor, Holtwood and Conowingo — all use fish lifts, which function like an elevator, to transport the fish to the other side of the dam.
Despite these efforts, the ladders and lifts show only limited success since fish still have to find their way through passages or into an elevator chamber and then pass through all four dams.
Often fish become confused and get lost along the way.
To improve the situation, Liu and his colleagues are developing a “nature-like” fish passage for York Haven, a design they hope to eventually use at other locations as well.
To create the passage, part of the dam will be removed and replaced by an in-stream structure that will mimic what the fish encounter as they migrate in nature.
Since hydraulic conditions are complex at these sites, both computational modeling and physical modeling will be used to decrease the uncertainties that can occur under different flow conditions.
The team will utilize a 3-D high-resolution computational model to look at turbulent flow and a second model to track fish movement.
They will couple those results with a physical, scaled-down model that will allow them to see ideal flow characteristics and how the targeted fish species, the American shad and eel, will respond to these conditions.
“Around here, in the mountainous areas, these streams and creeks have a lot of boulders and rocks and fallen trees in the channel,” Liu said. “That's the natural status of the channel and the fish have biologically adapted to that through evolution.”
To simulate the natural debris in the area, the researchers will create a model that includes more than 600 4-to-6-foot boulders, as well as varying flow conditions for different fish’s needs.
“Basically, it's like a ramp with stops for the fish to climb up,” Liu said. “But the ramp might be too long or the elevation is too tall for certain fish, so we're going to provide them with resting areas so they can swim through the rapids between boulders and when they are tired, they can rest in the wake area behind the boulders.”
Once the successful model has been developed, the team will turn it over to Cube Hydro Partners, LLC, the owner and operator of the York Haven hydroelectric facility and funding partner on the project.
“It is important to Cube Hydro to ensure that our projects are designed and operated in an environmentally sound and sustainable way,” said Rick Cunningham, Cube Hydro’s director of marketing and sales. “Partnerships with leading institutions reinforce our philosophy and provide real-world applications for the next generation of hydropower industry leaders.”
The company hopes the project will provide critical information and quantitative data that will improve their design and can be used by others.
"This is an exciting opportunity for us to team with an energy company on an important environmental issue,” said co-principal investigator Peggy Johnson, dean of the Schreyer Honors College and professor of civil engineering. “Creating a functioning and sustainable fish passage requires interdisciplinary research and seeks to restore a healthy environment in the river.”
This three-year, $600,000 project titled, “Nature-like Fish Passage Design for the York Haven Dam,” began in September. Paola Ferreri, associate professor of fisheries management, also contributes to the project.

Wednesday PA Environmental NewsClips

The Feds/Other States
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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

House Leaves Town Without Finishing Debate On Natural Gas Severance Tax Bill

After two days of debate and considering 20 or so amendments to House Bill 1401 (DiGirolamo-R-Bucks) imposing a natural gas severance tax, the House abruptly adjourned Tuesday night without finishing work on the bill.
Before leaving, the House considered amendments to the bill most of which were voted down by very slim margins.  These are the amendments that got in--
-- Moving To Title 58: A4529 (Maher-R-Allegheny) voted 191 to 2 to amend the bill to move the existing language from the Tax Code to Title 58 relating to Oil and Gas.  As a result, a significant number of amendments were no longer germane to the bill and were out of order.
-- Deemed Approved Oil & Gas Permits: A4214 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin), on the second try, adopted a new provision 97 to 95 that declares oil and gas well-related permits deemed approved if DEP did not finish their review by the deadlines imposed by existing law by a vote of 97 to 95.  This was one of the environmental riders in the original Senate-passed budget package agreed to by the Senate and the Wolf Administration.
-- Freeze On Oil & Gas Permit Fees: A4208 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) voted 100 to 93 to freeze existing unconventional well permit fees through January 1, 2021 (4 years). DEP is now working on a proposal to increase the fees to pay for Oil and Gas Program regulatory costs.
-- Reallocation Of Revenue: A4424 (Lawrence-R-Chester) voted 178 to 13 to direct the first $150 million generated by the tax to the General Fund and any remaining funds would be divided equally between the state employee and school employee retirement funds.  The previous language in the bill would direct all the revenue to the General Fund, which Rep. DiGirolamo said would only generate around $150 million or so a year.  The revenue in this bill does not benefit any environmental programs.
-- Move Wells 50 Feet Without New Permit: A4203 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin) was approved  100 to 91 to amend the bill to allow an oil and gas permit holder to move a well a maximum of 50 feet from the original permitted location without getting a new permit.
-- Multi-Year Well Permits: A4209 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) provides DEP with option of multi-year well permits authorized by regulations passed 189 to 1.
-- Replaced Water Supply Protection Provisions:  A4207 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) replaced the existing provisions in the Oil and Gas law related to replacement of water supplies affected by oil and gas drilling, including the rebuttable presumption provisions by a vote of 128 to 68.
The amendment takes out provisions now in Act 13 of 2012 saying replacement water supplies must meet “the standards established under the act of May 1, 1984 (P.L.206, No.43), known as the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act, or is comparable to the quality of the water supply before it was affected by the operator if that water supply exceeded those standards" and leaves in language that says a well operator "shall restore or replace the affected supply with an alternate source of water adequate in quantity or quality for the purposes served by the supply." The Environmental Quality Board is directed to promulgate new regulations defining replacement water supply quality so the General Assembly has oversight of the requirement when a regulation is adopted.  This has been a point of disagreement with the industry for some time.
Amendments Voted Down/Withdrawn
The House narrowly voted down amendments that would have--
-- Renamed The Impact Fee: Amendment A4531 (Maher-R-Allegheny) simply renaming the existing Act 13 drilling impact fee a “severance tax” by a vote of 84 to 109;
-- Limited Forced Pooling: A4651 (Oberlander-R-Armstrong) providing for a limited forced pooling requirement for extracting natural gas from unrelated gas lessors was voted down 51 to 142.
-- Eliminating The Severance Tax Thru Credits: Amendment A4126 (Ortitay-R-Allegheny) was withdrawn that would have eliminated severance tax revenue by giving a well driller credit for the impact fees paid.
-- 2-Year Moratorium On All DEP Regulations: Voted down A4190 (Oberlander-R- Armstrong) 85 to 107 a 2-year moratorium on DEP adopting, promulgating or submitting for public comment of  any “regulations, technical guidance, general permits, permit conditions or rulemaking of any kind” and reassign staff to review permit applications.
DEP may adopt or promulgate technical guidance documents or policy statements “to protect or preserve the health, safety or welfare of the people of this Commonwealth in order to avoid or mitigate an imminent or occurring emergency or other natural disaster.”
The Environmental Quality Board may promulgate regulations “to protect or preserve the health, safety or welfare of the people of this Commonwealth in order to avoid or mitigate an imminent or occurring emergency or other natural disaster.”
-- Allowing Drillers To Start Well Pads, Access Roads Without Permits: A4204 (Oberlander-R-Armstrong) would have allowed well drillers to begin earth disturbance activity on new well sites and access roads only with a written notice to the surface landowner or if they obtained an oil and gas well permit.  It eliminated the requirement for any DEP permits at this stage.  The amendment was withdrawn after debate.
-- Allowing Drillers To Operate Then Get Permits:  A4411 (C.Quinn-R-Delaware) gives unconventional oil and gas operations 30 days after operations begin under a provisional permit to apply for any other needed DEP air quality permits failed 74 to 117.
-- Moratorium On Seismic Impact Conditions: A4532 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin) providing for a moratorium on any DEP or EQB action to promulgate any guidance, policy, technical guidance, permit or rule on induced seismicity until DEP does a peer-reviewed study of potential seismic impacts associated with “underground activities” was “over” without taking a vote.  DEP added conditions to two underground drilling waste injection wells in Elk, Indiana counties in March related to seismic activity.
-- Well Pad Restoration Requirements: A4206 (Oberlander-R-Armstrong) requiring the restoration of drilling well pads within 24 months on well pads with multiple wells failed 93 to 97.
-- Undoing Minimum Royalty Provisions: A4292 (Bloom-R-Cumberland) to prohibit any part of the bill to the impair existing contracts which was designed to nullify the provisions related to minimum royalty requirements was “over” and not voted on.
-- Give Manufacturer’s Tax Credit To Drilling Companies: A4517 (Marshall-R-Beaver) making drilling companies paying severance tax eligible for $4 million Manufacturers’ Tax Credit for payments made failed 93 to 99.
The House plans to return to voting session on December 4, but no word yet on when or if they will pick up consideration of the bill.

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