PA Legislature Dealing with Environmental Issues this Week

by Nicholas A. Dulepski

The PA General Assembly is making determinations on several state environmental policies this week. H.B 1237, sponsored by Rep. Dawn Keefer- R- York, allows the General Assembly to now either vote on an “economically significant” environmental regulation or simply do nothing, which would disallow the regulation’s enforcement (Hess, 2018). A house committee approved and amended the bill, along with similar bills, such as House Bill 209, a bill cosponsored by Keefer (Hess, 2018). H.B 209 establishes The Independent Office of the Repealer, whose sole purpose is to review both old and new environmental regulations and suggest to the GA or governor’s office that they be repealed (Hess, 2018). The committee is yet to act on H.B 1959 (Rep. Rothman- R) which would roll back state agency permit- issuing authority on hazardous waste, underground mining, safe drinking water, oil and gas, sedimentation and more by instead giving the authority to a third- party. The bill hopes to cut long wait times for permits from the DEP. Reading through the bill, Rothman defines a third- party as “any individual in the Commonwealth who possesses the requisite certifications and qualifications of an occupation relating to a permit administered by a state agency.”.

It’s hard to make sense of these bills especially after Duke University, in January of this year, released a report on damages to water sediments downstream of PA oil and gas sites. The report confirmed that these sediments were 650 times more radioactive than the control sediments (Lucas, 2018). I understand that some will argue restricting environmental regulations is necessary for good business, but do these laws put our health at risk?


States Pick up Slack with Federal Enviro Cuts

by Remo Diventura

The Trump Administration’s budget cuts include reducing federal environmental protections by millions of dollars. As a result, state governments are filling the gaps, with 23 states (including PA) proposing a combined total of 112 new policies to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. This isn’t about emissions or pollution specifically, but about what one is calling “common sense chemical reform”. This includes banning some pesticides, paint removers, fire-retardants, plastic additives, and water regulations. The belief behind this is to help not only the environment by removing harmful chemicals, but with public health. Many of these regulations are aimed at fixing the overburdened healthcare system. In Pennsylvania specifically, two bills have been proposed. One bans the use of a certain chemical (bisphenol-A) in food and beverage containers. The other requires the Environmental Quality Board to adopt a limit on perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.

What these regulations will do to either public health or the environment is not really known. But the fact this is panning out in the current presidential administration is interesting to see, especially with many of these states also vowing to continue with the Paris Agreement regardless.

Pennsylvania and Water Testing

By Wil Cacciatore

Pennsylvania Calls for More Water Testsexplains how Pennsylvania wanted to run tests involving treatment plants and drinking water facilities to monitor for any radioactive pollutants that are ending up in the satellite rivers in that area. Since this article was written in 2011, Barack Obama had established a policy for stabilizing the environment regarding the water systems, air pollution from harmful fumes from factories, and also dumping grounds for sludges and other disastrous actions. Pennsylvania also made new guidelines for the factories for how to detect these harmful substances, so the E.P.A wouldn’t have to intervene with the regulators for the state. Although these policies and guidelines were set, E.P.A officials heard that a Johnstown plant was receiving biosolids sending them to fields for spreading them. During Barack’s terms, Pennsylvania and even the whole nation has seen an improvement in environmental regulation, but the overall contributing factor is not keeping up with regulations and not being aware of the surroundings. Regulators have to realize that long term effects can be prevented with one simple change. An example of this would be waste treatment plant operators didn’t define radium as a harmful containment for the production of fertilizer. This one arrangement could have conveyed a long period of change for the environment as a whole.

Pennsylvania DEP Proposes Increase to Shale Gas Well Permit Fee

by Othniel T. Degahson, Jr.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is proposing an increase in the price of a shale gas well permit from $5,000 per well to $12,500 per well. The Department of Environmental protection justifies this as a necessity to keep the state’s oil and gas oversight program from operating at a deficit, as permit fee revenue has seen a large decrease since 2014-2015. As the DEP gets a large amount of its funding from permit revenue, they have had to decrease the amount of employees in their oil and gas program.

Permit fees for shale gas wells are paid once at a well’s birth and inspection responsibilities continue until the well is plugged decades later.

The state government under Governor Tom Wolf has known that the DEP needed more money, yet they delayed on permit fee increases due to state budget negotiations that had the possibility of a severance tax on shale, which would have a portion of those funds allocated to the DEP’s oil and gas program.

Industry representatives are generally supportive of a fee increase “to provide DEP’s oil and gas program with the resources it needs” but were blind sighted by the size of the fee increase, especially given what they viewed as excessive amounts of time for the permits to become approved. Marcellus Shale Coalition data shows the average permit wait time increase from 57 days in 2016 to 111 days in 2017.

Local Governments and Plastic Shopping Bags: To Ban or Not to Ban?

by Morgan Wieziolowski

Widener University Political Science Major

In the cities of Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis, Oregon the distribution and use of plastic shopping bags are no longer legal. The city of West Linn, OR is moving on legislation to also ban these bags. Plastic bags are polluting the environment, collecting in the rivers and the Pacific ocean. These bags destroy ecosystems, water ways, habitats and also kills/injures animals. In some places in the Pacific, it even “out weighs plankton”, now that’s a pretty significant amount of plastic. Plastic bags are also difficult to recycle because even countries like China no longer accept these plastics to be recycled. It is actually an expensive process to recycle these bags and is much cheaper for companies, people, and the government to put them in landfills. Basically there is no easy way around the use and pollution of these plastic bags. Legislation that would ban the use of these bags would force companies and businesses using these bags for economical reasons to stop, and would prevent any financial burdens of anyone having to attempt to recycle them. The idea is to change our actions and choices, so that people use alternatives. Brilliant idea- who would have thought there were substantial alternatives to things like plastics, and even energies?!

The Western Black Rhino & the Pennsylvania Legislature

by Sarah Cox

Widener University Political Science Major

The Western Black Rhino was considered critically endangered for many years, and just recently has been declared extinct. Endangered species laws are up for debate and voting in congress, and they seriously need to step their game up. The extinction of the Western Black Rhino should be a warning to show if things do not change, we will lose many more species of animals.

The latest update to the list of Threatened Species has more than 60,000 species. 25 percent of the mammal on the list can be extinct in the near future, there are also various plant species under threat of going extinct as well.

There is a bill that is currently seeking approval for the endangered species protection act. The act will require approval of protection proposals by a state regulatory agency. The president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said the legislation promotes “accountability, transparency and uniformity.” It gives “all stakeholders, and the general public, an opportunity to weigh in on proposed regulations,” Barr said.

However, the new bill in fact isn’t looking out for endangered species, but it is the number one priority for Marcellus shale drillers. They will try to rush the bill through congress because for them, time is money.

Marcellus Shale lawyers are pushing this legislation in order to run through most of Pennsylvania without any regard for endangered species of fish, animal or plants. These species are obstacles to their wells, frack pits and pipelines as well. They want these species gone. They are going to show little to no regard for the animal life, as they already do for the communities that are in their way as well.

New Solar Solutions for American Communities

by Aubrey Dangelo

Widener University Political Science Major

A new non-profit organization is taking the lead in residential solar panel installation in local communities throughout the United States. SmartPower is working to make solar power more affordable for homeowners and to change the marketing techniques used by many solar power companies. It is interesting to see that national organizations are trying to make an impact on solar energy production in light of the recent failure of President Obama’s investment in the solar company Solyndra. When only three percent of people in the United States use some form of solar energy, someone has to take initiative in helping to promote the use of solar energy, and citizens of the United States are not likely to be interested this kind of action coming from the Federal government due to the fact that Obama’s recent activity in this area has not been successful.

SmartPower has praised the efforts of the government of New Jersey for continuing to lead the way with incentives for installations of renewable-energy in residential and commercial buildings. SmartPower ranks New Jersey as the second best state in the nation in terms of homes and businesses with solar panels installed. The Solar Energy Industries Association says that New Jersey also has the most favorable net-metering standards in the country. If non-profit organizations geared towards solar energy production combine with state and local governments, the country could make a lot of progress on the problem of a lack of solar energy use in this country.