Monday, October 20, 2014

2013-2014 PA Environmental Legislative Scorecard

Hi PA Sierrans!

We, along with Conservation Voters of PA and Clean Water Action, released the 2013-2014 PA Environmental Legislative Scorecard.

One thing I want to note for you, our Chapter volunteers and leaders, is that a few of the Republican Senators in the Southeastern part of the state who scored low - Sen. Rafferty, Sen. Greenleaf, and Sen. Tomlinson each at 38% - did come through for us in these last few days of session and vote against the two bad bills that were pushed through just this week - HB 2354 and HB 1565. They represent an important environmental voice in their caucus so I wanted to highlight those votes for you since their scores warranted a bit more explanation, in my view. 

Please let me know if you have any questions about the scorecard, the votes, etc. and please also see the brief additional description below for why some of the votes mattered so much:

The 2014-2015 state budget process also reflects the largely anti-environment sentiment within the legislature. Funding for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has been reduced to unconscionably low levels, making the agency even more dependent on revenue from oil and gas leases on state lands such as our parks and forests. General Fund monies allocated to DCNR were reduced to around $15 million, nearly a 90% cut since 2006. The remainder of DCNR's budget will be largely made up from Oil and Gas Lease Fund transfers, making the state agency charged with conservation of public lands instead dependent on gas drilling and timber cutting for even its most basic adminstrative function. Similarly, funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) was reduced by 53.5%, from $934,000 to $434,000, and notably the DRBC currently has a moratorium on natural gas extraction within the basin.

In addition to the budget bill itself, the legislature passed a Fiscal Code bill, HB 278, to implement the budget, containing several bad environmental provisions. First, the bill authorized the use of revenue from new oil and gas leases on state park and forest land for the General Fund, permitting a transfer of $95 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund exclusively from these new leases. The language regarding new leases on state lands in the Fiscal Code bill is also concerning since the bill contained the assertion that the Oil and Gas Lease Fund is not a Constitutional Trust, which could impact legal interpretations regarding the permissive allocation of Oil and Gas Lease Fund monies for non-conservation purposes. In addition, jammed into this bill is a requirement that the Environmental Quality Board promulgate distinct regulations for conventional oil and gas wells and unconventional oil and gas wells after stand-alone legislation that would have required that did not pass; essentially this was a successful attempt to circumvent the full legislative process by inappropriately inserting this language into the Fiscal Code bill. 

HB 1565 takes away current protections provided by forested buffers for some of our finest streams and rivers across the Commonwealth.  Current Chapter 102 regulations exist to protect water quality, requiring 150 foot vegetated streamside buffers for all development along high quality (HQ) and exceptional value (EV) streams.  Stream buffers are better at protecting water quality than any other best management practice.  Buffers capture nutrient pollutants and sediments, and retain roots that are essential to the prevention of erosion and loss of soil. Buffers also protect downstream communities from flooding impacts, increase property values, and support the multi-billion dollar outdoor recreation industry in Pennsylvania. No other management practice can match forested riparian and riparian buffers in protection and enhancement of the biological, chemical, and physical habitat of our valued rivers and streams.

HB 2354, introduced by Democrat Pam Snyder from Greene County, is an effort to hinder state efforts to reduce carbon pollution. HB 2354 will make it harder for Pennsylvania to comply with the Clean Power Plan, which will put the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. This bill will allow any one chamber of the state General Assembly to veto any state-level greenhouse gas emission reduction plan required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the proposed Clean Power Plan. However, EPA is required to implement a federal plan in any state that does not provide its own, so if political jockeying interferes with our ability to enact a state implementation plan here in PA, we expose the Commonwealth instead to the possibility of federal mandates.

Air pollution such as that the Clean Power Plan aims to reduce is causes increased risk to our communities from premature death, asthma, heart attacks, and other ailments. In a recent study by Harvard School of Public Health at Harvard University, Pennsylvania was identified as one of 12 states with the most premature deaths avoided as a result of meeting our carbon dioxide emissions reduction. Legislative pressure to politicize the clean power plan the way HB 2354 has in PA could make it more difficult for us to achieve these benefits to the health of our communities. 

All the best,

Joanne Kilgour
Chapter Director
Sierra Club PA Chapter

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