February 22, 2013

Feb. 25 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Feb. 25 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

DEP Citizens Advisory Council To Invite Ideas On Improving Public Participation

Members of the DEP Citizens Advisory Council voted unanimously Tuesday to invite the public and members of other DEP advisory committees to submit ideas on how to improve the public participation process for developing regulations and technical guidance at the agency.
Noting that DEP was at a very early stage of developing changes to this policy, the Council members felt it would be helpful to the department to provide input into potential changes the agency should consider.
The Council was informed that DEP Secretary Michael Krancer was opposed to the Council soliciting ideas for improving public participation because he felt it would create confusion with the public as the agency went ahead with its more formal process for updating its public participation policies.
The Council will be putting out a formal announcement inviting comments in the next few weeks.
Also adopted by the Council was its 2013 Strategic Workplan setting out priority issues the Council will focus on in the coming year.  The Workplan was prompted in part by the significant cuts in the CAC’s budget over the last few years.  The priorities established in the Workplan include--
-- The Department’s performance in advancing transparency and public participation in policy development, program implementation, public service, enforcement actions and permitting decisions.
-- Ongoing review and analysis of Department activities as mandated by state statutes (for example, the Bituminous Mine Subsidence and Land Conservation Act and the Air Pollution Control Act).
-- Providing a forum for issues brought by the public to the CAC, as appropriate. Council will review pending issues quarterly.
-- Consult with, and bring issues to the attention of, the legislature.
-- The Department’s ability to fulfill its statutorily mandated responsibilities and mission in light of continued budget cuts at the state and federal level.
Council took action on two other issues--
-- Air Quality Regulations: Council voted to recommend approval of final Chapter 121 Air Quality regulations related to particulate matter controls and recommended DEP move ahead with proposed changes to Chapter 129 Air Quality regulations setting RACT requirements for major sources of NOx, although the Council said more study was needed on the substance of the proposal; and
-- Transparency: Council voted to draft a letter to DEP urging the agency to be more transparent in providing information to the public based on recommendations of the PA League of Women Voters.  Council members would have the opportunity to review the letter before it is sent.
Other issues discussed at the Council meeting included:

Permit Review Public Participation: Robert Altenburg, DEP Policy Office, presented the Council with a very draft policy setting out public participation options on individual permit reviews during the meeting and asked for Council comments by March 5.
Altenburg said the new policy represents a complete re-writing and updating of the previous policy focused on fixing the obvious things which were out of date, clarifying the types of public participation tools available-- hearings, meetings, informal conferences, and authorizing options involving new technology like web meetings.
New to the policy are guidelines on public conduct during hearings and meetings.
DEP expects to put the revised policy out for formal public review by the end of March, but the draft document DEP presented to the Council they said should not be shared with the public.
The Council voted to host a webinar with DEP on its current public participation policies on permit reviews and on DEP’s proposed changes, once those become available to help educate the public on the public participation tools DEP has available.

Environmental Justice Public Participation: Holly Cairns, Acting Director of DEP’s Office of Environmental Advocate, said DEP’s draft revisions its Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy, which kicks in during reviews of individual permits, is still undergoing internal review at the department.
Cairns did said the geographic areas, called Environmental Justice Areas, were just updated by DEP using the most recent population and economic data.  Due to an increased number of census tracts created in 2010 and other factors, the number of Environmental Justice Areas have increased significantly.
Several Council members expressed an interest in learning more details about why there has been an increase in the number of EJ Areas and Cairns offered to be part of a conference call with interested members.

Permit Backlog: Dana Aunkst, DEP Deputy Secretary for Field Operations, provided an update on the new Permit Decision Guarantee Process noting the release of the agency’s first quarterly report last week.  Aunkst cautioned the report includes very preliminary data on the first 10 weeks of the program and not even a full quarter.
Aunkst said DEP was taking steps to eliminate the agency’s backlog in permit applications which he said was as high as 11,000 applications.  When the new Decision Guarantee Program started in September the backlog was just over 9,900 applications.
Currently there are just over 6,000 applications in the backlog and the agency has a goal of eliminating those applications by July 1.  Aunkst said many of the applications knocked off the list so far have been inactive or unwanted applications submitted to the agency, in some cases, years ago.
Aunkst noted the department denied 1.31 percent before the Permit Decision Guarantee and after the Guarantee Program 1.36 percent.

Natural Gas Industry Radiation Study: Vince Brisini, DEP Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, provided an overview of a study the agency is doing to comprehensively monitor and document naturally occurring radiation coming from the waste products of Marcellus Shale drilling.
Called TENORM (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material), many of the waste materials associated with Marcellus Shale drilling are naturally radioactive to some extent, but until now there has not been a comprehensive study to document the extent and potential hazards associated with these wastes.
The study will include measuring and evaluating naturally occurring radiation from wastes such as drill cutting, wastewater sludges and radon gas in air emissions.  In addition, the natural gas itself produced by the wells will be analyzed for its radon gas content even though radon gas has a half-life of just six days.
Click Here for background on the study and future updates.

Water Testing Protocols: Barbara Hall with TestAmerica, Inc., a provide laboratory which provides water testing services in the Marcellus Shale regions of the state to private clients and DEP, gave Council a briefing on water testing protocols.
During its last two meetings Council has been presented with concerns and allegations about DEP “hiding” some water sampling results from homeowners.
As a result of the presentation, it became clear there has been a misunderstanding about how test results are generated at a modern lab like TestAmerica.
Hall clarified that while modern testing equipment frequently provides sample results on a broad spectrum of substances in a sample at the same time, the client or DEP requests the individual results it wants by substance or parameter.
For example, in the controversy presented to Council, DEP was doing investigative sampling trying to determine if a water supply was affected by Marcellus drilling.  Hall pointed out only a handful of parameters are necessary to make that determination and those are the results they report to their clients or DEP, even though their equipment might have automatically analyzed the sample for many more substances.
Hall said, unlike other states, Pennsylvania does not have a set list of parameters drilling companies should use to analyze water wells around their drilling sites, at a minimum within 2,500 feet.  The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, Hall said will soon be publishing it own site of water sampling parameters for member companies to use.

Agency Monthly Report: DEP provided the Council with a 23-page long monthly report of its activities in each of the major agency program areas.  The detailed report highlights major initiatives underway, regulatory and policy changes being considered, the status of certain key programs and much more.  Click Here to read the report.

FY 2013-14 Budget Proposal: Holly Cairns, Acting Director of DEP’s Office of Environmental Advocate said the agency will provide an update on the FY 2013-14 budget proposal to Council at its March 19 meeting.  In lieu of a report by DEP, Council members were provided copies of these articles on the budget--
-- Corbett Proposes $10 Million Increase In Farmland Preservation, More DEP Staff Cuts
-- $1.8 Billion Cut/Diverted From Environmental Programs Over Last 11 Years
-- Growing Leaner: Shrinking Commitment To The Environment Over Last 10 Years
-- DEP, DCNR Secretary Respond To Concerns About Budget Cuts
In addition, the Council was provided with a brief overview of the 2011-12 Report on State Performance which showed overall compliance with environmental regulations dropped 12 points between 2001 and the 2011-12 Performance Report.
Council Chair John Walliser asked members to think about how the Council should get involved in the budget deliberations in the General Assembly, given the 2013 Strategic Workplan highlights this issue as critical in the coming year.

Public Comment: During the public comment period three individuals presented comments:
-- Roberta Winters, PA League of Women Voters expressed concerns about the decrease in funding and staffing for DEP; urged the CAC to examine whether DEP is accomplishing its mission of protecting the environment; and aksed whether promoting advanced energy technology is in conflict with that mission.
-- Jeff Schmidt, PA Sierra Club expressed concerns about the procedures used by DEP to providing water testing results to landowners in Marcellus Shale drilling areas; highlighted concerns about TENORM waste from drilling operations triggering alarms at landfills; and noted DEP’s Environmental Justice permit review policy excludes Marcellus Shale gas drilling permits.
-- Steve Kunz, Schmidt & Company said on December 27 DEP took action in Greene County to declare six streams beyond repair due to damage from longwall coal mining in the Bailey Mine.  The company is appealing the determination.

The next meeting of the Citizens Advisory Council is March 19 in Room 105 Rachel Carson Building, Harrisburg.  Click Here for available handouts for each meeting.

Friday NewsClips

Justice Orie Melvin Guilty Of 6 Of 7 Counts
Jury: Orie Melvin Guilty Of All But One Count
Conviction Of Justice Orie Melvin Hasn’t Changed Status
Orie Melvin Faces Removal From Supreme Court
Convicted Justice Could Be Ordered From Office
Editorial: The Sisters Orie Convicted
Corbett: Challenge On Lottery Rejection Is Coming
Gov’s Lottery Move Has GOP Critics
Future Bright For PA Casinos Gaming Board Chair Says
Guns Talks Pervade Kane Hearing
Groups Urge PA To Join Medicaid Expansion
Editorial: Suddenly State House Soft On Crime
Op-Ed: Governor’s Plan Will Hurt Beer Retailers
Op-Ed: Put Merit Selection Of Judges On Fast Track
Editorial: Ruling Boosts Right To Know
House Speaker Golfing For Dollars
Hardy Williams Affectionate Feeling For Schwartz For Gov
Column: Hanger For Governor Is Worth A Look
Bradford Commissioner Running For Lt. Governor
Editorial: Not Enough To Delay Voter ID, Get Rid Of It
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

February 21, 2013

Guilty: Justice Orie Melvin, Janine Orie

An Allegheny County jury on Thursday convicted suspended Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin on six counts for misusing state-paid employees to campaign for a seat on the high court in 2003 and 2009.
Although the jury deadlocked on one charge of official oppression, Melvin, 56, will likely be stripped of her seat on the state's highest court, and will likely lose her pension.
The jury also found her sister and former staffer Janine Orie, 58, guilty on all six of the counts she faced. The jury deliberated for 15 hours over four days.
Jury: Orie Melvin Guilty Of All But One Count
Justice Orie Melvin Guilty Of 6 Of 7 Counts

Senate Budget Hearing: DEP Eliminated 40% Of Permit Backlog So Far

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer told the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday  his agency reduced the backlog of permit applications from a high of 11,000 permits to just over 6,000 as a result of using uniform permit processing procedures and getting rid of the inactive or unwanted permits in the backlog.
          Secretary Krancer answered questions for about 90 minutes before the Committee, after spending more than 2 hours in from of the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.  
          Click Here for more complete summary.

Thursday NewsClips

Corbett: Next Step On Lottery Privatization Near
9 Takeaways From Patriot-News Corbett Interview
Corbett Not Worried About Kane Sandusky Investigation
Pileggi: Some Transportation Funding Is Better Than None
Corbett Transportation Plan Draws Kudos, Complaints
AG Wants More Money To Battle Drug Gangs
AG Kane Pleads For More Funding
Senators Give Attorney General Warm Welcome At Hearing
AG Kane Hopes Lottery Contract Stays Out Of Court
Kane Welcomed By Both Sides At Budget Hearing
McCord Favors Expanding Lottery Before Privatization
Orie Melvin Jury Resumes Deliberations Thursday
Op-Ed: Let PA Pension Reforms Work
What Corbett Rejection Of Medicaid Expansion Means
DEP Secretary: 3rd Year In Row Of No Furloughs
NCAA Sues PA Over Keeping Fines In State
Editorial: Speculators False Bogeyman In Gasoline Price Rise
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

Wednesday NewsClips

Officials Grilled As Budget Hearings Open
Corbett’s Cabinet Members Grilled Over Budget
Dems Take On Corbett Over Medicaid, Pensions
$50 Million Returned To UK Lottery Contract Firm
Weighing Appeal, State Returns $50 Million To Lottery Firm
State Officials Give Back $50 Million To Lottery Firm
Corbett Weighing Options On Lottery Contract
Editorial: Kane Stopped At Lottery Steamroller
PA Braces For Federal Spending Cuts
Liquor Privatization Bill To Be Introduced
Editorial: Dems: Listen To Their Own On Liquor Privatization
State College Bars Go Alcohol-Free For 1 Day
Counties Work To Avoid Voting Law Confusion
Orie Melvin Jury Continues Deliberations
House Member Snubbed For Violating Dress Code
PA Supreme Court: No Privacy Right For Home Address
Prison Closure To Cause $20 Million Damage To Westmoreland
Mayor Ravenstahl Announces Reelection Bid In Pittsburgh
5-Year Financial Projections For Debt-Ridden HBG Schools
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News

February 19, 2013

Senate Changes Budget Hearing Schedule

The Senate Appropriations Committee has changed its budget hearing schedule.  The new schedule is--
-- February 21: The new agenda includes: 9:30 - Department of General Services; 11:00 - Department of Insurance; 1:00 - Department of Environmental Protection (was Feb. 27).
-- February 27: The new agenda adds: 2:30 - State Police/Homeland Security (was Feb. 21).
-- February 28: The new agenda has Penn State, Temple, University of Pittsburgh, Lincoln Universities testifying together starting at 9:30.
<> Click Here for the full Senate Committee schedule.

Independent Fiscal Office: One-Time Fund Transfers Won’t Be Available Next Year

Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) opened the first House budget hearing Tuesday with comments and included a statement about his concern with enacting a budget that relies on savings that may or may not come under scrutiny by the Courts, such as the pension proposal.
"Pension reform specifically is a major component of the governor's budget proposal because the administration uses approximately $175 million in savings generated from pension reform in other areas of the budget," Rep. Adolph said. "It will be incumbent on this legislature to see if this plan is one that will be able to deliver the anticipated savings and also stand up to the legal questions raised about the plan. I think we need to be exceedingly cautious about enacting a budget that is predicated on savings that will likely be subject be the courts."
Click Here for Rep. Adolph’s opening statement and the Independent Fiscal Office comments.
PA Economy: Director of the Independent Fiscal Office Matthew Knittel gave an opening statement in which he indicated that both the national and state economies are experiencing gradual improvements, but the rates of growth have been somewhat sluggish.  
The job market continues to improve at a moderate rate, and while the unemployment rate has improved, the IFO predicts unemployment for 2014 to be at 7.3 percent , which is still historically high.
Offsetting strong revenues from Personal Income Tax and corporation taxes are weak collections from Sales and Use Tax.  Other factors such as the expiration of tax cuts at the federal level will continue to affect spending.
IFO estimates that federal tax changes for 2013 will reduce the disposable income of Pennsylvanians by $7.7 billion.  This could be mitigated by the fact that since the onset of the recession, Pennsylvanians have paid down housing debt, which could help to increase spending.
The IFO current revenue projection is $75 million above their original estimate, resulting most likely from lower utilization of available tax credits, and strong Personal Income Tax numbers.
PA One Time Surplus: There is approximately $550 million available this year that may not be available next year, due to factors such as, among others, the phase out of the Corporate Net Income Tax and a transfer this year of $50 million from the Racehorse Development Fund.
The IFO has identified several problem areas to watch in the next several years. While many households have paid down mortgage debt, student loan debt has now come to the forefront.
Knittel said that Pennsylvania ranks first or second in student loan debt per capita. But with regard to all other forms of debt, Pennsylvania households have returned to 2004 debt levels. He also cited growing health care costs and obligations as an area of concern.  
State Lottery: Fielding a question about the PA Lottery’s sales rates, Knittel said that lottery sales have increased by 10 percent the last two years, and are on track this year to increase by a more moderate 7 percent and said that this is consistent with the economic recovery seen in other areas.
He said that the IFO has not done any comparisons to the PMA with Camelot, but that his office could do so if asked.  The IFO likewise has not been asked to undertake an analysis of liquor privatization proposals, but Knittel said it would be within his office’s purview to do so. They have received one request to study possible Medicaid expansion, and that study is in progress and expected to be completed in late March or early April.
Revenue Growth: In response to a question about growth rates and the degree to which the Governor includes more upside in his estimates, Knittel said that the IFO estimates are below the Governor’s and that they see more weakness in some areas, such as the Gross Receipts Tax, which is driven by the telecommunications and electric industries. He said the decrease in telecommunications is expected but the decline on the electric side is a surprise.
In answering a question about the tax changes proposed as part of the Governor’s budget, Knittel said that the IFO has analyzed the changes and has found that the revenue estimates as a result of those changes seem to be sound.
Slots Revenue: There was some discussion about a discrepancy in reports on slots revenue. Knittel said that his office is not statutorily directed to study slots revenue but that it would be within their purview to do so should they receive a request. Sen. John Rafferty (R-Montgomery) said that he may file a request to that effect since the amount of slots revenue directly affects the horse racing industry.
Links To Budget Testimony, Hearing Videos
The Senate Appropriations Committee is making available links to written testimony and a video of each presenter during the budget hearings--
-- Budget Secretary Charles Zogby: Video
-- Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel: Video, Written Testimony
-- Public Utility Commission Chair Robert Powelson: Video, Written Testimony
-- Click Here for links to all available Senate budget hearing videos.
The House Appropriations Committee is also making links to testimony and videos of the budget hearing Q/As available online--
-- Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel: Video, Written Testimony
-- Department of Revenue Secretary Dan Meuser: Video, Written Testimony
-- Department of General Services Secretary Sheri Phillips, Video, Written Testimony
-- Click Here for links to all available House budget hearing videos.

Tuesday NewsClips

Analysis: Corbett One Term Governor?
Leap To Corbett Savvy Move For Cohen
John Baer: Prison Inmates Collect Unemployment Checks
Crack Down: Inmates Getting Unemployment Checks
Toohil Backs Kane On Lottery Contract Block
Op-Ed: Judicial Merit Selection Wrong Choice For PA
Former Rep. Brennan Returns To Job In Harrisburg
Flurry Of Gun Safety Proposals In PA
Doctors’ Group Supports Prescription Database
Push For Capital Budget Changes Renewed
Click Here for today's PA Environmental News