The Pennsylvania State Legislature’s leadership and the oil and gas drilling industry are attempting a secretive strategy to stop much needed regulations on oil and gas drilling.
When they thought no one was watching, House and Senate leaders amended a little known budget bill called the Fiscal Code (S.B. 655) with a provision that would halt new regulations on conventional oil and gas drilling. The House passed the bill over the weekend and the Senate followed on Tuesday.
Starting on Page 29, Line 20 of S.B. 655 the provision states, among other text:
The [Environmental Quality] Board may not adopt or promulgate:
(i) a revision of 25 pa. Code ch. 78 (relating to oil and gas wells) applicable to the operation of conventional oil and gas wells which was formulated or proposed in any form prior to the effective date of this subsection; or
(ii) a regulation applicable to the operation of conventional oil and gas wells which was formulated or proposed in any form prior to the effective date of this subsection.In 2012, the State Legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett passed Act 13, which promulgates environmental regulations on conventional and unconventional oil and gas operations. The Fiscal Code provision would roll back a significant portion of these regulations and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would have to discard years of work, public debate, and citizen comment. In other words, DEP would start over again and allow drillers to continue polluting your drinking water and the air your kids breathe, without proper oversight, for years to come.
Unfortunately, this is the latest chapter in the oil and gas industry playbook. They’ve tried unsuccessfully to stifle public comment during the development of these regulations. They still argue that they should voluntarily regulate themselves, yet they’re regularly fined for, among other things, polluting our waterways. And a stated industry goal is to try and delay implementation of Chapter 78 regulations until early 2016 when the clock would run out and DEP is required to start over.
To say this is undemocratic, anti-environmental, and anti-Pennsylvanian is an understatement. A significant policy change, such as halting Chapter 78 oil and gas standards, should be made out in the open and with public debate, not hatched as a back-room deal via the state budget.
It’s critical this provision is not included in the final budget negotiations between the legislature and Gov. Wolf, especially if Pennsylvania wants to economically benefit from oil and gas drilling without harming human and environmental health. Tell your elected official that this cannot stand.
Matthew Stepp is director of policy for PennFuture and works out of our Philadelphia and Harrisburg offices. He tweets @MatthewStepp.