With the close of legislative session in Harrisburg last week came significant victories for Pennsylvania’s environmental protection, as two harmful bills were halted thanks to our work in the Capital, and thanks to the many citizens who took action by contacting their elected officials.
Senate Bill 652, which aimed to silence those protesting pipelines, and House Bill 2154, which sought to roll back protections and regulations for the conventional oil and gas drilling industry, have both officially been defeated for this legislative session.
This would not have been possible without the advocacy and hard work from PennFuture staff, members, supporters, and partners across the environmental community in Pennsylvania. Through action alert emails that engaged citizens with their elected officials, in-district constituent meetings with members of the General Assembly, calls to offices, sign-on letters with partner organizations and coalitions, and multiple lobby days, our presence and direct opposition to these bills truly had an impact.
HB 2154 would have greatly compromised air and water quality, repealing conventional oil and gas drilling regulations for almost 35 years by reenacting the Oil and Gas act of 1984. This bill would have placed profits of the oil and gas industries above protections of public resources and public health. HB 2154 sought to promote the use of drilling fluids and wastewater without any supporting scientific evidence deeming it safe for the public, potentially leaving families at risk. This bill also would have broadly threatened surface water in rural areas, where many of the highest quality streams and headwaters are in Pennsylvania. Additionally, HB 2154 would have opened the door to more drilling operations across Pennsylvania, which would further endanger our air and water, and it called for eliminating protections for public resources, such as parks, forests and wildlife preserves, weakening public health regulations in favor of profits for polluters.
HB 2154 saw some unexpected movement in the State Senate last week as the session clock counted-down, but PennFuture and our allies were vigilant, reaching across sector and policy areas, to build a wide coalition of groups to garner 26 ‘NO’ votes on the bill. Because of this work, PennFuture and our partners were able to block this bill from being brought up for a final floor vote in the Senate before the Chamber gaveled out for recess, beating the industry’s efforts. We may see this bill reappear in the next legislative session beginning in January, and we are prepared to fight it again.
Another dangerous bill that PennFuture spent much of its time fighting in the last weeks of session was Senate Bill 652. This bill’s language was almost taken verbatim from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), funded largely by the oil and gas industry and polluters. It was a threat to Pennsylvania’s democracy and public participation, and SB 652 aimed to inhibit protesting rights by imposing a felony offense upon any individual who enters a ‘critical infrastructure’ facility with intent to ‘impede’ operations. This means a person who attended a meeting during which a peaceful protest was planned against construction of an oil and gas facility could also be prosecuted for committing a felony - the same grade of offense used to define capital murder.
Senate Bill 652, cunningly known as the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, was part of a coordinated, nationwide campaign by the oil and gas industry to shield itself from any accountability for the pipelines, drilling rigs, and other projects they’re putting on Pennsylvanians’ farms, backyards, schools, or close to our communities. The goal of SB 652 was to frighten Pennsylvanians away from opposing oil and gas projects, even if those projects harm our health, land, or families. SB 652 was an attack on the rights of Pennsylvanians to stand up for their clean air and clean water, and an attempt to silence people who oppose environmental degradation, the potential consequences of natural gas infrastructure, and the reckless behavior of the oil and gas industry.
PennFuture worked closely with our environmental champions in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to speak against the bill in Committee and worked to build a group of votes against the it. After being bogged down with nearly 35 amendments, and because of its ferocious and controversial nature, it became evident in the last week that Senate Bill 652 would not be seeing a final vote on the floor of the House before the end of session. We count this as a victory and will continue to fight it if the bill returns in some other iteration in the next legislative session.
With the end of legislative session, PennFuture and Pennsylvania’s environment saw another victory with the defeat of the “Regulatory Review” package of bills, which included House Bills 209, 1237, 1792, 1959, and 1960, which sought to roll back key protections for our clean air and water, and sought to undermine our regulatory agencies, including the Department of Environmental Protection. Though these bills passed the House in May, PennFuture and our partners were able to stop them in four different Senate committees.
PennFuture also worked hard to advance and pass several beneficial bills during the 2017-2018 session, including House Bill 2468, which increases protections against abuse of eminent domain on plots of land with conservation easement status, such as the Stoneleigh Natural Garden in Villanova and the McCormick Farm in Cumberland County; thereby protecting our parklands and open spaces.
We also worked to pass House Bill 234, which establishes Pennsylvania’s Commercial PACE program, authorizing local governments to create energy improvement districts to help fund energy efficiency, renewable energy and water conservation projects. We worked to pass House Bill 118, which closed the ‘solar borders’ in Pennsylvania by requiring solar projects funded by solar credits from the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS) to be built in Pennsylvania.
Several beneficial bills for environmental protection and conservation have failed to pass this session, but we will continue to advocate for them next year alongside partners. Here’s what to look for in the coming months in terms of the work ahead:
- The passing of framework and funding legislation for a Growing Greener III program would be a huge step in the right direction for best management practice implementation and increasing funding for clean water across the Commonwealth.
- We will also continue to support legislation like Senate Bill 800, which aimed to revamp the statewide electronics recycling program in favor of a new, more functional program.
- PennFuture and clean water partners will also continue to work with the state legislature to pass a healthy and responsible fertilizer reduction and application bill such as Senator Alloway’s Senate Bill 792, which called for the regulation of lawn fertilizer application; its passing would be significant for water quality, especially in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
- PennFuture will also work to pass legislation like House Bill 1446, aiming to increase electric vehicle-friendly infrastructure in the Commonwealth, Senate Bill 1236 proposing to update Act 129, an important utility energy conservation program, and Senate Bill 15, which sought to ensure that Pennsylvania continues to fulfill its responsibility in fighting global climate change, striving to meet its commitments under the Paris climate accord and attain the goals set forth in the Clean Power Plan.
- In terms of renewable energy, PennFuture, in the next session, will advocate for community solar legislation like that of House Bill 2681, and a renewal of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) legislation.
For now, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and State Senate will return to Harrisburg after the elections on Nov. 13 and 14 for the start of new member orientation, leadership elections, and caucus reorganization, but are not expected to move any legislation for the rest of this year. The General Assembly will likely be back during the first full week of January 2019 and we will continue to advocate for a clean and responsible state budget, track and advance legislation that protects our environment, acts on climate, and we will defend against any attacks on our Commonwealth’s crucial clean air, water, and natural resource protections.