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PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

No joy in Mudville: General Assembly strikes out down the stretch on key environmental issues

Our preview of the stretch run of the fall legislative session discussed the need for the General Assembly to defeat two bad environmental bills along with the opportunity to pass two excellent bills. Unfortunately, by passing both bad bills and failing to pass either good bill, the General Assembly went 0 for 4 and wore the collar as fans of clean water, acting responsibly on climate, protecting public health, and reducing energy use were left to ponder what might have been in the face of these strikeouts.

Let's look at the legislative box score, which is chock full of errors.

The passage of House Bill 1565 will undermine the current requirements for riparian buffers that protect High Quality and Exceptional Value streams, Pennsylvania's best waters. Riparian buffers reduce flooding and stormwater runoff, improve water quality, decrease pollution, protect drinking water and improve habitat for fish and other wildlife.

HB 1565 rolled into the Senate with considerable momentum from its lopsided passage in the House. A hard push by environmental, conservation and angling organizations made the Senate vote close, but unfortunately the bill was approved 27-22 and has just been signed into law by Governor Corbett as Act 162 of 2014.

The passage of House Bill 2354 will delay and harm Pennsylvania's ability to develop an effective plan to comply with the proposed U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan. The EPA plan would deliver significant carbon pollution reductions from power plants, help fight global warming, and improve public health, and represents an extraordinary opportunity to boost renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts in Pennsylvania and across America. HB 2354 now risks a federal takeover of Pennsylvania's carbon compliance efforts.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 14-12 to approve a compromise amendment offered by Senator John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, that would have given the General Assembly significant input into the crafting of the Pennsylvania compliance plan but without jeopardizing the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection to submit a state plan to the EPA in a timely manner as required by law.

PennFuture supported the Rafferty amendment and commends the eight Democrats and six Republicans who voted in favor. Unfortunately, the full Senate voted 29-20 to return to the previous version of the of the legislation and thus nullify the Rafferty amendment. Governor Corbett has now signed HB 2354 into law as Act 175 of 2014.

House Bill 343, sponsored by Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, would have provided important and long overdue standards for private well water construction that will protect human health and water resources. Over three million Pennsylvania residents rely on one million private water wells for their drinking water supply, with approximately 20,000 wells drilled annually. Only Michigan has a larger population served by private water supplies. Despite these facts, Pennsylvania remains one of two states lacking statewide regulations for private well construction.

The House passed HB 343 by a wide margin on June 27, but the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee whiffed on the bill and did not give it further consideration. Rep. Miller is retiring at the end of the session so hopefully other legislators will step up to the plate on this important issue.

House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, would have required high-performance green building standards in most state-owned building construction projects. Passage of the bill would be a win for both the environment and Pennsylvania taxpayers as there would be substantial reduction in operating costs and energy and water use over the life of the buildings.

The House passed HB 34 by a wide margin in early 2013, but the bill stalled in the Senate. In the waning days of the session, the bill started to move in the Senate but an apparent deal with the House to pair Senate action on HB 34 in return for House action on a Senate building codes bill fell through.

PennFuture thanks the members of the General Assembly who opposed HB 1565 and HB 2354, and worked to pass HB 343 and 34. We can only hope that next year's legislative lineup will be stronger when it comes to conserving Penn's Woods and protecting its citizens.


Steve Stroman is state policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @SteveStroman1.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Community turned out to thank Rep. Phyllis Mundy

PennFuture supporters and the northeastern Pennsylvania community came out on October 2 to thank retiring Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, for her 12 terms of service and her conservation and environmental work throughout a career in public service. Rep. Mundy is retiring at the end of this legislative session and has served 13 communities in the heart of Luzerne County since 1990.
The reception at Vanderlyn's Restaurant in Kingston included highlights of Rep. Mundy's legislative work from Steve Stroman, state policy director. PennFuture staff was represented by Pam Fendrock, Kate Gibbons, Mike Helbing and Mark Szybist. Local environmental and non-profit groups and constituents and non-constituents alike chatted with Rep. Mundy and friends. State Representatives Eddie Day Pashinski and Karen Boback, and Congressman Matt Cartwright's District Manager, Bob Morgan, were among those who attended.  


We've had the opportunity to work with Rep. Mundy in Harrisburg and at home in her district as she's worked on issues confronting watersheds and the Susquehanna River, promoted public health and protected drinking water supplies from drilling, and worked for clean-up of mine-scarred lands across the district. Thank you to a legislative champion!

Kate Gibbons is northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

A citizen's guide to the legislative home stretch in Harrisburg

The 2013-2014 session of the Pennsylvania General Assembly is down to five scheduled legislative session days: October 6, 7, 8, 14 and 15.

It is possible that either the House or the Senate could return to Harrisburg to cast votes in a lame duck session after the November 4 election. However, statements from key Senate Republican and House Republican leaders suggest that such votes are unlikely.

There are scores of bills that could be voted and potentially sent to the governor during the remaining five days of session. These five days will be characterized by constant pressure from lobbyists and advocacy organizations, intense bargaining between House and Senate Republican leaders, and urgent calls from all quarters for bills to be voted given the slipping sands of legislative time. With polls showing Governor Tom Corbett consistently trailing challenger Tom Wolf, a potential change in administration is also casting a shadow over the end of the session and fueling an urgent need by some interests to move legislation.

While there is no guarantee that these five days will match the excitement and chaos of Tuesday night's Kansas City-Oakland playoff tilt, we're expecting our fair share of wild card drama over the coming fortnight.

We're also going to need citizens to be there with PennFuture in the days ahead, and not just in spirit or as spectators as it is critical that legislators hear from their constituents on several pressing pieces of environmental and energy legislation.

Here is a scorecard of some of the bills we're following:

House Bill 1565 would undermine the current requirements for riparian buffers that protect High Quality and Exceptional Value streams, Pennsylvania's best waters. Riparian buffers reduce flooding and stormwater runoff, improve water quality, decrease pollution, protect drinking water and improve habitat for fish and other wildlife.

HB 1565 moved through the House quickly in late September. It is now expected to be voted by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on October 6, and may be considered by the full Senate soon thereafter. PennFuture is working with a coalition of environmental, conservation and angling organizations to stop the bill.

House Bill 2354 would delay and harm Pennsylvania's ability to develop an effective plan to comply with the proposed U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan. The EPA plan would deliver significant carbon pollution reductions from power plants, help fight global warming, and improve public health, and represents an extraordinary opportunity to boost renewable energy and energy efficiency efforts in Pennsylvania and across America.

HB 2354 moved through the House quickly in late June. It is now expected to be voted by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on October 6, and may be considered by the full Senate soon thereafter. PennFuture is working with a coalition of environmental and public health organizations to stop the bill.

House Bill 343, sponsored by Rep. Ron Miller, R-York, would provide important and long overdue standards for private well-water construction that will protect human health and water resources. Over three million Pennsylvania residents rely on one million private water wells for their drinking water supply, with approximately 20,000 wells drilled annually. Only Michigan has a larger population served by private water supplies. Despite these facts, Pennsylvania remains one of two states lacking statewide regulations for private well construction.

The House passed HB 343 by a wide margin on June 27, but it remains to be seen whether the bill will be considered by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee during its last voting meeting of the session on October 6.

House Bill 34, sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, would require high-performance green building standards in most state-owned building construction projects. Passage of the bill would be a win for both the environment and Pennsylvania taxpayers as there would be substantial reduction in operating costs and energy and water use over the life of the buildings.

The House passed HB 34 by a wide margin in early 2013, but the bill has been stalled in the Senate. Attention may now be shifting in the waning days of the session to companion legislation sponsored by Senator John Rafferty, R-Montgomery.

Stay tuned. Take full advantage of the breaks between playoff innings and other activities. We're going to need your help.

Steve Stroman is state policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @SteveStroman1.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Recognizing a departing legislative champion


State Representative Phyllis Mundy, D-120, will retire at the end of this fall's legislative session after 12 terms representing part of Luzerne County. Mundy has been a strong defender of clean water, a champion of Pennsylvania's public lands, and a supporter of clean energy, and we're asking you to join us in showing our appreciation for the environmental and conservation work she's done on behalf of her constituents and all Pennsylvanians.

PennFuture will host a reception honoring Rep. Mundy on Thursday, October 2 in her district, led by our Wilkes-Barre staff and our state policy director. Hear from PennFuture staff as we highlight the representative’s achievements, enjoy light refreshments, and chat with Rep. Mundy and friends.

This casual event will be held in a restaurant housed in a repurposed historical structure that many decades ago was home to a toy factory.
Enjoy a light mix of hors d’oeuvres and wine, beer, and soft drinks. The reception is one of several PennFuture events this fall to recognize retiring legislative champions.
 

Thursday, October 2, 5:30 - 7:30 p.m.
Vanderlyn's Restaurant
239 Schuyler Avenue, Kingston, PA

Tickets: $15.00

Please purchase tickets online in advance or call 570.208.1757.


Kate Gibbons is PennFuture's northeastern Pennsylvania outreach coordinator and is based in Wilkes-Barre.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Giving the public a say in public lands--show your support in Williamsport on July 28

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is required by law to manage Pennsylvania's state forests and state parks as a trustee for all citizens of the Commonwealth including generations yet to come. DCNR is now making critical decisions on gas development in state parks and state forests, decisions that will have far-reaching and long-lasting impact on the ecological and recreational value of our public lands.

Unfortunately, as PennFuture and other members of the Save the Loyalsock Coalition have come to understand in our struggle to protect an extraordinary tract of the Loyalsock State Forest in Lycoming County, DCNR is not currently required to inform or engage the public in a meaningful way as it makes significant decisions on the future of our public lands.

On Monday, July 28, the House Democratic Policy Committee will hold a hearing in Williamsport on legislation sponsored by Representative Rick Mirabito, D-Lycoming, that will give citizens much greater input into these decisions. 

Please consider attending this important hearing as our public lands are under tremendous stress and threat from natural gas development. The hearing will run from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at Lycoming College's Mary Lindsay Welch Honors Hall, located at East Fourth and Basin streets.

Representative Mirabito's House Bill 2318 will require much greater transparency and accountability on the part of DCNR by requiring the agency to provide public notice and seek public input before authorizing any major unconventional shale gas development on state forest lands. Specifically, HB 2318 requires:

  1. A public comment period
  2. At least one public hearing or meeting
  3. Access for the public during the comment period to proposed development plans
  4. That DCNR share with the public during the comment period the agency's analysis of the potential impacts of the proposed gas development on ecological, wildlife, recreational, cultural and aesthetic resources
The hearing agenda includes testimony from:
  • Robert Cross, Responsible Drilling Alliance
  • Mark Szybist, PennFuture
  • Joanne Kilgour, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter
  • John Childe, Jr., public interest attorney
  • Harry Campbell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Paul Zeph, Audubon Pennsylvania
  • Cust Ashenfelter, Keystone Trails Association
Officials from DCNR and the drilling industry declined invitations to testify and provide their input.

The public lands of Penn's Woods urgently need our help. Please consider attending this hearing.

Steve Stroman is policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Celebrating a conservation hero, discussing his impact

On Monday, July 14, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will present the Ralph W. Abele Conservation Heritage Award, the agency's highest conservation honor, to former legislator Franklin Kury. The award is in recognition of Kury's "lasting conservation impact as the author and champion of  Article 1, Section 27, of the Pennsylvania Constitution, also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment.

The event will also feature a discussion on the significance of Article 1, Section 27. Peter Duncan, former secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources and former executive director of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, will moderate the discussion. This session will include a taped interview with John Dernbach, Distinguished Professor of Law at Widener University.

Kury served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1968 to 1972, and as a member of the Pennsylvania Senate from 1972 to 1980. In addition to his leadership in enacting the Environmental Rights Amendment, Kury played a lead role in the passage of the Flood Plain and Storm Water Management Acts, the State Scenic Rivers Act, and numerous other environmental and conservation laws.

In its December 19, 2013, decision in Robinson Township v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court breathed new life into Article 1, Section 27, as it overturned key parts of the state's new unconventional natural gas drilling law commonly known as Act 13. Chief Justice Ronald Castille articulated a new framework in Robinson for evaluating government decisions under Article 1, Section 27, including the government's exercise of its public trust powers relating to the environmental impact of its actions on present and future generations.

The July 14 event is open to the public and doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the 7:00 p.m. event.

Steve Stroman is policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg. He tweets @SteveStroman1.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

June 2 committee hearing to examine Corbett public lands leasing proposal

Governor Tom Corbett's proposed 2014-15 fiscal year budget relies on $75 million from new leasing of Pennsylvania state parks and state forests for gas drilling. This proposal follows the terrible precedent set during the Rendell administration of balancing the state budget on the back of damage to our public lands.

Meanwhile, Governor Corbett and the General Assembly refuse to pass a severance or drilling tax for Pennsylvania as is the case in every other major natural gas producing state. Instead, the Act 13 impact fee passed in 2012 translates to one of the lowest effective tax rates in the country, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.

On Monday, June 2, the House Democratic Policy Committee will critically examine the leasing proposal at a public hearing entitled, "Drilling on Public Lands to Balance the Budget." The hearing is being organized by Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, minority chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. It will start at 10:00 a.m. in Room 418 Main Capitol.

Panelists at the hearing will include:

Kudos to Rep. Vitali and Policy Committee Chair Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster, for bringing attention to this critical issue that should greatly concern anyone who cares about the future of Penn's Woods.

The next six weeks before the passage of the budget around June 30 will be critical in the effort to prevent further leasing of our public lands. Citizen activism will be essential to blocking the Corbett proposal.  

Steve Stroman is policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.