The Pennsylvania General Assembly’s two-year session wrapped up with a flurry of last-minute activity, capping off months of historic attacks on environmental priorities. It was a tumultuous session characterized by numerous attempts to weaken environmental regulations, halt progress toward a clean energy economy, and open up more land to natural resource extraction.
PennFuture worked tirelessly to defend the Commonwealth against these attacks and strengthen natural gas drilling regulation, protect endangered species, promote energy conservation, and advance Pennsylvania’s opportunity to develop a timely carbon reduction strategy. The fight is not over though. Many of the bills described below are expected to be re-introduced during next session, which begins January 2017.
Nevertheless, here’s a rundown of the session’s environmental wins, narrow escapes, lost opportunities and losses.
- Defeated attempt to commercialize state park lands (HB 2013). This bill would have advanced efforts to open up state parks to private developers to build hotels, golf courses, amusement parks, commercial and industrial parks and other uses incompatible with our state parks’ natural assets. It was soundly defeated in the House.
- Defeated effort to ban municipalities from addressing plastic bag pollution (HB 1280). This last-minute bill would have banned local municipalities from banning of levying fees on plastic bags, which account for a significant portion of water pollution and litter issues. It was soundly defeated in the House.
- Senate advanced legislation to gut energy efficiency program (SB 850). This legislation was pressed as a commonsense effort to make manufacturing more competitive, but in fact it was a veiled attempt to allow the largest state industries to avoid paying their fair share for energy conservation programs, resulting in far less investment in this cost-effective program. It passed the Senate, but did not receive a vote in the House.
- House and Senate almost broke the state building code process…again (HB 568). This controversial legislation would have locked in a failed process that has disallowed Pennsylvania from adopting modern building codes, include strong energy conservation standards. It passed the Senate, was amended by the House and passed, and amended again and passed by the Senate. The House never took final action.
- Governor vetoes attempt to break state regulatory process (SB 562). This seemingly innocuous bill would have given the legislature the power to indefinitely delay new regulations, potentially killing new proposed environmental safeguards. Both the House and the Senate passed it, but Governor Wolf issued a veto..
- Bad amendments taint good gas royalty bill (HB 1391). Rep. Everett pushed for good legislation to require gas drillers to pay landowners who lease their land for drilling the full amount they owe in royalty payments, yet numerous amendments aimed at weakening new gas drilling regulations and barring methane regulations set the stage for unnecessary legislative battles around a good bill. It ultimately did not come up for a vote in the House.
- Effort to rollback endangered species protections sinks good government bills (SB 1166 and SB 1168). This pair of bills would have allowed the Fish and Boat and Game Commissions to set license fees and better fund their programs. Unfortunately, amendments were offered in the House that would have weakened protection for endangered species. The bills passed without amendments in the Senate, but did not receive votes in the House.
- Creating an environmental regulation hit list (SR 385). Senate Resolution 385 directs the Joint State Government Commission to conduct an unnecessary review of environmental laws and regulations to determine if they are more protective than federal laws. Once identified, the study will provide convenient cover to roll back laws designed to address environmental threats specific to Pennsylvania. It passed overwhelmingly in the Senate (Note, resolutions only have to pass their respective chamber and don’t require gubernatorial approval).
- Delaying state planning to reduce carbon pollution (SB 1195). This hotly contested bill implements a convoluted process that all, but guarantees Pennsylvania will wait until the very last minute to submit its plan to reduce carbon pollution by 30% by 2030 under the Clean Power Plan. The bill passed both the House and Senate. Governor Wolf signed it into law.
- Halting new rules for conventional oil and gas drilling (SB 279). After 5 years of public input, legislative input, and policy debate the General Assembly advanced legislation to stop new rules for conventional oil and gas drilling from taking effect. These rules would have set commonsense standards to protect water, communities, and air from a polluting industry that has been working under the same regulations for over 30 years without updating. The bill passed the House and Senate. Governor Wolf signed it into law.