For Immediate Release

[September 12, 2017 – Harrisburg, PA] – As the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives returns to session to consider revenue packages for the state budget, environmental leaders gathered with local citizens in the Capitol on Tuesday to deliver a message: the proposed budget is a raw deal for all Pennsylvanians. The current plan presents unprecedented changes to environmental protections amid riders that would compromise air quality, water quality and public health.

The groups slammed the use of revenue-related budget bills to pass industry-friendly policies that could never stand on their own merit, a form of legislative overreach that is becoming an annual tradition in Harrisburg. Further, the groups highlighted the 1700 comments generated from Pennsylvania residents, directed to the legislature and Governor Wolf, opposing passage of a budget that continues to include ill-advised riders.

The Tax Code Bill (HB 542), passed by the Pennsylvania Senate and supported by Governor Tom Wolf, includes provisions that would create a new Air Quality Permit Advisory Committee to approve any air quality permits meant to regulate emissions from oil and gas operations, marking the first time in history a legislatively-dominated body would have veto authority over any environmental regulation or permit.

The bill also includes a rider that would allow the oil and gas industry to hand pick their own third-party, fee-for-hire agents to review and approve their permit applications if the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doesn’t do so within a set time frame.

“The Pennsylvania Senate’s ill-advised provisions in the budget bills would be devastating to our air and water across the state,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director with Clean Air Council. “Pennsylvania families who live near shale gas facilities are already forced to breathe harmful methane pollution and deal with other negative impacts of the industry – these provisions would only add insult to injury. Our group of environmental organizations, collectively representing nearly a million Pennsylvanians, are calling on the Pennsylvania legislature and Governor Wolf to protect Pennsylvania families by passing a clean budget and rejecting any budget deal that contains environmental riders that put our air and water at risk.”

“As a mother of two young boys living in heavily fracked Butler County, I know there is no justification to trade away the only public health protections Pennsylvania’s children have from natural gas pollution in a bad budget deal,” said Patrice Tomcik, Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force. “This bad budget deal has a plan to replace air experts at the Department of Environmental Protection with a committee of political appointees, stacked in favor of the oil and gas industry that would reduce the Department’s ability to oversee the natural gas industry. In other words, this plan would give industry a free pass to pollute and sicken our children.”

“The Pennsylvania Senate’s willingness to put the future of our air and water in the oil and gas industry’s hands, with the support of Gov. Wolf, is unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Sarah Martik of the Center for Coalfield Justice.  “We absolutely cannot afford to give oil and gas companies the ability to hire their own third parties to issue permits. The permitting process is one of the few ways a community has a voice to speak out and be heard on projects that threaten their health and homes.  If the industry wants permits to be issued more quickly, they should support a budget that fully funds the Department of Environmental Protection.”

Riders jammed into in the Administrative Code Bill (HB 118) also drew the ire of the environmental groups. These riders included allowing wastewater treatment facilities to continue accepting and discharging conventional oil and gas drilling wastewater under long-expired permits, and restricting DEP’s ability to implement a water quality standard for manganese, a toxic metal.

“Every year over 100 million gallons of conventional gas wastewater, which contains heavy metals such as arsenic, a variety of hazardous chemicals, radionuclides, and high levels of salts, is still discharged to rivers and streams, particularly impacting the Allegheny River,” said Myron Arnowitt of Clean Water Action. “It’s disgraceful to allow these facilities to continue to pollute our waterways by letting them operate under weaker standards in violation of an EPA order and the Clean Water Act.”

“Pennsylvania legislators are once again attempting to brazenly throw our families, farms,  health and environment under the bus, this time by using the budget process to limit water quality protections for our streams and rivers from manganese, a toxic metal,” said Faith Zerbe, Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “It is time our elected officials get the message that it’s not okay to infringe on our Constitutional Rights under Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution just to give more gifts to the drillers and coal industry that repeatedly wound our community, forests, streams and drinking water.”

The event was sponsored by Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, Center for Coalfield Justice, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Environmental Defense Fund, Moms Clean Air Force, Mountain Watershed Association, National Resources Defense Council, PennFuture, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Sierra Club.  

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Contacts:

Katie Edwards, Clean Air Council, 609-432-0129;  kedwards@cleanair.org

Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action; 412-592-1283; marnowitt@cleanwater.org

 Tell the Pennsylvania General Assembly that clean air and clean water are not for sale. 

On July 27, 2017, the Pennsylvania Senate approved a revenue package that will further decimate the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), threatening public health and damaging our environment in the process. By the slimmest of margins, the Senate voted 26-24 to adopt amendments to the Tax Code bill – House Bill 542 – which does achieve one of Governor Wolf’s long-sought goals, a severance tax on the extraction of natural gas from unconventional wells. On its own, this is a worthy policy goal. However, in exchange for what amounts to a paltry revenue increase, the Senate approved a series of environmental riders wanted by industry groups that gut DEP’s ability to act in the public interest. This is unacceptable; the state budget is not the place to debate critical protections for our air, water, and public health. DEP’s budget has already been slashed by 40 percent over the last 13 years – resulting in the loss of over 22 percent of its staff – and HB 542 would undermine DEP’s authority going forward and pose an immediate threat to Governor Wolf’s proposed commonsense controls on methane pollution.

In February, DEP published proposed general permits (GP-5 and GP-5A) that would establish cost-effective controls on methane pollution from new sources in the unconventional natural gas industry. These permits will protect public health, the environment, and Pennsylvania’s economy. Following extensive input from stakeholders and members of the public, the 120-day public comment period on the permits closed on June 5. While DEP is currently working to finalize the permits, HB 542 would allow the General Assembly to unilaterally weaken or eliminate them. Instead of working with the agency or going through the standard legislative process, this bill would create a new “Air Quality Permit Advisory Committee” – dominated by members handpicked by the legislature – that would have ultimate authority to approve (or disapprove) the permits once finalized. The bill prohibits DEP from submitting the permits to this “Committee” before 2018 and would allow industry-backed lawmakers to effectively veto these much-needed commonsense protections. This unprecedented hurdle to environmental protection is not grounded in science or designed to protect public health, it’s a transparent political game to benefit the gas industry.

Another amendment to the bill directs DEP to establish a program for third-party review of any permits issued by the agency, effectively privatizing the oil and gas permitting process in the Commonwealth. DEP would be required to contract with third-party permit reviewers, and the bill’s language includes no provisions for any supervision of these individuals or for accountability. Disturbingly, there are no conflict-of-interest provisions in the bill and permit applicants are allowed to handpick their own reviewer among those contracted with DEP. That means there is nothing to prevent a consultant from reviewing his own application. Furthermore, there are no provisions dealing with public participation, meaning there is no guarantee that third-parties handling permit applications will hold a public hearing or allow for public comment. This ill-advised approach will cede our public servants’ responsibility to protect public health and the environment to unaccountable private interests. It will undermine the integrity of the permit review process while limiting public participation and allowing for rampant self-dealing.

Finally, there is a provision stating that any permit for unconventional oil and gas development is simply “deemed approved” unless DEP denies it within the relevant timeframe (which varies from 30 to 45 to 60 days depending on the situation). Even if the relevant review period is extended for cause, this provision would require that DEP refund the permit review fee to the applicant. This radical approach puts the burden on DEP – intentionally underfunded and understaffed – to rush its permit review process and allows for the automatic approval of permits that have not been subject to appropriate agency review or public scrutiny.

Put it all together, and it is clear that HB 542 is a direct assault on Pennsylvania citizens’ fundamental, constitutionally-protected rights to clean air and pure water. Rolling back environmental and public health protections won’t balance the budget – all it does is give drillers a license to pollute. Governor Wolf has political concerns over his reelection and, in his single-minded pursuit of a severance tax, he has cut a bad deal for the people of the Commonwealth that needlessly trades away clean air and water protections. This deal should be rejected as an affront to our fundamental rights and to responsible stewardship of our public natural resources.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(WASHINGTON, D.C. – July 10, 2017) – Clean Air Council was in Washington D.C. today to continue arguing against Trump Administration efforts to roll back public health and climate protections just one week after winning a major legal victory with other environmental organizations against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt.  

Administrator Pruitt is insistent on suspending these protections despite admitting that a two-year delay would have a disproportionate impact on children’s health,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council.  “Delaying these important rules would jeopardize the health of Pennsylvanians living near 836 wells now covered by the rules as a result of the court’s decision last week allowing the rule to be implemented.  Oil and gas pollution contributes to over 30,000 asthma attacks each year in Pennsylvania and some of the chemicals released with methane (benzene, for example), are known human carcinogens.”

On Monday, July 3rd, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C Circuit reinstated oil and gas methane pollution standards that had been suspended before implementation at the beginning of June.  In a 2-1 decision in Clean Air Council, et al. v. Scott Pruitt, the Court found that Pruitt had no authority to stay the rules.  Oil and gas operators must now comply with the standard, including the essential methane leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements.

“We won in the courts on the 90-day delay of the rules, but we now need to continue to defend public health and air quality as EPA recklessly attempts to institute a longer and more harmful two-year suspension of these same protections,” said Minott.

However, today, the EPA held a public hearing on Pruitt’s second attempt to stop these protections- a proposed two-year stay of these very same rules.  Nearly 20 impacted community members and faith leaders from Pennsylvania testified during the hearing.  They were joined by impacted people from around the country who traveled to Washington with the same message: public health for all must be prioritized over profit for a few.

“We are a family living in the epicenter of Marcellus Shale drilling,” said Jane Worthington, a mother of two from Mount Pleasant, PA that testified at Monday’s hearing. “We are not living the ‘dream,’ but are living in fear as we watch our friends and neighbors develop cancer.  Our benzene-exposed daughter has to carry a personal air monitor that goes off while she is at school because it is surrounded by gas sites.  There are 22 wells within 1/2 mile of our school. Six of these wells are being fracked as we speak and only 0.7 miles away from the school. We are extremely worried about being exposed to harmful pollution from the gas industry. “

The oil and gas industry is the leading industrial source of methane pollution, a greenhouse gas that is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide on a 20-year timescale. Recently released data that was self-reported by the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania showed methane emissions were up 28% between 2014 and 2015 while production only rose 12%.

 

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Clean Air Council is a member- supported, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone’s right to breathe clean air. The Council is headquartered in Philadelphia and works through public education, community advocacy, and government oversight to ensure enforcement of environmental laws. For more information, please visit www.cleanair.org.

 

Contact: Katie Edwards, Clean Air Council

kedwards@cleanair.org, 215-567-4004 x102

(June 20, 2017) – Pennsylvania elected officials held a hearing Tuesday morning to discuss regulatory oversight in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Representatives from oil and gas, manufacturing, finance, and environmental advocates testified before the panel. Environmental standards and regulations, specifically methane protections, were discussed by a number of panelists including PennFuture and Range Resources. In response, Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Clean Air Council, released the following statement:

 

“The oil and gas industry openly admitted that they are not looking for “regulatory relief” but want DEP to address delays in issuing permits. This is directly related to DEP not having enough funding to properly do their job, not about regulations that would drastically cut air pollution.”

 

About Clean Air Council

Clean Air Council is Pennsylvania’s oldest member-supported environmental nonprofit, fighting for everyone’s right to breathe clean air since 1967. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Council empowers citizens to fight for policies and practices that create healthier communities and a healthier environment. Clean Air Council believes everyone has a right to breathe clean air. For more information about Clean Air Council, visit www.cleanair.org.

Contact

Katie Edwards – kedwards@cleanair.org, 215-567-4004, ext. 102

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PHILADELPHIA, PA (June 16, 2017) –  On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would seek a two-year suspension of leak detection and repair standards on the oil and gas industry.  In a Federal Register notice Wednesday, the Bureau of Land Management announced a suspension of the implementation of key protections that reduce harmful methane pollution emissions from oil and gas facilities on public lands.  These delays on the EPA’s standards, and their possible subsequent rollback, would affect 800 wells across Pennsylvania–creating more than 500 tons of methane pollution and 140 more tons of smog-forming and health-threatening toxic chemicals in our air.   In response, Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Clean Air Council, released the following statement:

“President Trump and his EPA are sending a very clear message that they care more about protecting polluters than people.  As the second largest producer of natural gas, Pennsylvania has new wells drilled each and every day that will no longer need to comply with basic, common sense clean air protections.  This unreasonable delay is happening at a time when self-reported industry data show emissions have increased in the Commonwealth nearly 30% in recent years.  Today more than ever before, with a constant bombardment against national protections, Governor Wolf needs to honor his commitment to address methane pollution from natural gas facilities now”

About Clean Air Council

Clean Air Council is Pennsylvania’s oldest member-supported environmental nonprofit, fighting for everyone’s right to breathe clean air since 1967. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Council empowers citizens to fight for policies and practices that create healthier communities and a healthier environment. Clean Air Council believes everyone has a right to breathe clean air. For more information about Clean Air Council, visit www.cleanair.org.

PENNSYLVANIA, April 26, 2017 – From Scranton to Pittsburgh, impacted Pennsylvania residents held a number of coordinated press conferences and actions across the state to hold Governor Wolf accountable to his promise of regulating methane and harmful air pollution from existing oil and gas industry operations. Demonstrations and meetings occurred in Harrisburg and all of Wolf’s four regional offices. Everywhere methane leaks, it is accompanied by other harmful air pollutants. Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas and is responsible for emitting over 100,000 tons of hazardous toxic air pollution per year from the oil and gas industry.  

“It’s been a year and a half since the Governor announced his plan to address methane pollution, said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Clean Air Council’s Executive Director and Chief Counsel. “While Pennsylvanians continue to breathe unhealthy air, the Governor is already taking credit for implementing methane standards that have yet to be finalized. DEP released draft standards for addressing methane pollution from new oil and gas operations earlier this year, but Governor Wolf has still not made good on his promise to regulate the operations that currently pollute the air – and has yet to even propose them. The public needs and deserves these protections and we will hold the Governor accountable until he implements them.”

“People like myself and my family, living in the shalefields, would like to thank Governor Wolf for proposing his plan to cut methane,” said Lois Bower-Bjornson of Scenery Hill, PA. “However, we still must forge ahead on much-needed protections for existing operations. Each day that goes by without these protections is another day that I worry about my family’s health and exposure to harmful pollution.”

Residents affected by natural gas operations were outraged by a recent Wolf Facebook Live Town Hall where the Governor claimed to have instituted methane emissions standards, when residents say there has been no action to date on proposing and finalizing a regulation on existing sources, the most critical part of Wolf’s methane reduction plan. In Pittsburgh, residents participating in the action collected air pollution samples from near their homes and released it outside of the Governor’s office, bringing the pollution directly to him until he regulates it.  Residents in Scranton met with Wolf Administration staff from the regional office, held an educational event, staged a demonstration with signs, and wrote letters to local papers and comments to the Department of Environment Protection calling for more action to cut methane. Advocates also came to Wolf’s offices in Harrisburg, Erie and Philadelphia to share materials demonstrating strong support from across the state for strong air pollution standards.

About Clean Air Council:

Clean Air Council is Pennsylvania’s oldest member-supported environmental nonprofit, fighting for everyone’s right to breath clean air since 1967. Through research, public education and advocacy, the Council empowers citizens to fight for policies and practices that create healthier communities and a healthier planet. Clean Air Council believes everyone has a right to breathe clean air, and we all have a role to play. For more information about Clean Air Council, visit www.cleanair.org.

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