November 30, 2015

Senate Cancels Dec. 2 Voting Session

PLS: The Senate canceled voting session for Dec. 2.  As of now, the Senate returns to session Dec. 7.  The House schedule remains the same.

Follow Carol Collier, NatureConservancyPA On Twitter For UN Climate Conference Updates

Carol Collier, Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University’s Senior Watershed Policy Advisor and a Board Member of The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania, is attending the United Nations Climate Conference in Paris.
To get her regular updates, follow her on Twitter at Carol Collier and #drexelcop21 or through NatureConservancyPA on Twitter.
Collier also served as Executive Director of the Delaware River Basin Commission, helped guide Pennsylvania’s 1998 21st Century Environment Commission, was Director of DEP’s Southeast Regional Office and worked for 19 years with BCM Environmental Engineers, Inc.
Related Story:
PA Doesn’t Have Far To Go To Meet EPA Clean Power Climate Plan Emission Limits

PA Doesn’t Have That Far To Go To Meet EPA Clean Power Climate Plan Emission Limits

With the United National Climate Conference beginning in Paris this week, it might be a good time to review where Pennsylvania is in reducing climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions and how much more the state has to do to meet the EPA Clean Power Climate Plan.  Just consider--
-- 27 Million Ton Reduction Already: The final EPA Clean Power Climate Plan requires Pennsylvania to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 1 million tons annually by 2022 (7 years from now) and another 15 million tons annually by 2030 (15 years from now).
Carbon dioxide emissions in Pennsylvania have already been reduced by 27 million tons annually in just 7 years, a 20 percent from 2007 to 2014, to a total of about 107 million tons annually.
The reductions came primarily as a result of switching from coal to natural gas to generate electricity and additional EPA controls on mercury emissions at coal-fired power plants.
The first milestone in the EPA Clean Power rule is 2022 which requires Pennsylvania to reduce CO2 emissions to 106 million tons, about 1 million tons below where the state is now.  
By 2030, the state must take steps to reduce emissions to 91 million tons, only about 15 million tons more.
-- PA Use Of Natural Gas For Electric Power Generation Still Increasing: From 1997 to 2013 natural gas use to generate electricity increased from 3 percent to 38 percent, according to the Public Utility Commission.  About 10,003 MW of generating capacity is now fueled by natural gas in Pennsylvania with another 11,609 MW of new generating capacity being proposed, although not all of the proposed capacity is typically built.
-- Coal Switch Happening Anyway: In July 2014, DEP acknowledged in a presentation before the Citizens Advisory Council that coal use in Pennsylvania could drop by 75 percent by 2030 anyway, without the EPA Clean Power Climate Plan, due to the switch to natural gas for electric power generation because of market conditions, if natural gas prices remain about the same.
For more information, visit DEP’s Climate Change webpage.
Op-Ed: Climate Change A National Security Threat, Tom Ridge

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November 27, 2015

Nov. 30 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The November 30 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Here are just a few of the headlines--

PA Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Challenge To Use Of Oil & Gas Fund Monies
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Thursday the PA Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of a January 7 Commonwealth Court decision upholding the right of the General Assembly and the governor to transfer monies from DCNR’s Oil and Gas Fund to the General Fund and the use of those funds for DCNR State Park and State Forest Operations.

DEP Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force Schedules Dec. 16 Meeting
The DEP Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force has scheduled an additional meeting on December 16 to review the 184 recommendations in the draft Task Force Report released on November 9.

Senate Environmental Committee Sets Hearing On Sewage Facilities Act Dec. 8
The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on the Sewage Facilities Act (Act 537) on December 8 in Room 8E-B East Wing Capitol Building in Harrisburg starting at 9:30.  Act 537 was originally passed in 1968 to provide for the planning, permitting and design of all types of sewage facilities including onlot septic systems.

CBF Program To Help Farmers Improve Grazing, Water Quality To Expand
An innovative program that helps livestock farmers increase per-animal profits while also reducing agricultural pollution will expand in three states, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and its partners.

PA Environmental Council Outlines Work On Trails, Greenways
All across the state, the PA Environmental Council is improving and expanding networks of recreational trails.  The Circuit in Philadelphia and the Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition out of Pittsburgh, both with strong PEC leadership and partnerships, are probably the two most exciting trail networks in the country right now. 

PA Land Trust Assn. Seeks Conservation, Government Leadership Award Nominations
The PA Land Trust Association seeks nominations for its Lifetime Conservation Leadership and Government Conservation Leadership Awards. 

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PA Environment Digest is edited by David E. Hess, former Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and is published as a service of Crisci Associates.

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State Budget Twists, Turns, Cliffhangers, But No Happy Ending... Yet

This week’s actions surrounding the state budget had as many twists and turns as a holiday blockbuster.
On Monday,  Gov. Tom Wolf told the Pennsylvania Press Club Republicans should do what they agreed to do: pass a budget by Thanksgiving based on the framework agreed to November 10; except they couldn’t because they can’t deliver the votes.
Instead of working on passing the budget framework, Wolf said, Senate Republicans focused on voting a school property tax elimination bill-- Senate Bill 76 (Argall-R-Schuylkill)-- that is not part of the framework and which Wolf said he would veto.
Instead, Wolf said, House Republicans passed a liquor reform bill-- House Bill 1690 (Turzai-R-Allegheny)-- that was identical to the bill he vetoed in July.
One other alternative to passing the budget framework as is, Wolf said, “they can present me with any full year spending plan that can pass by next Friday” and he'll sign it.  [Yes, he said that.] But, he said, he will not sign a stopgap funding bill.
Later Monday night, the audience in the Senate gallery was on the edge of their seats for every vote cast when an effort to eliminate school property taxes through an amendment to House Bill 683 (Rapp-R-Forest) failed in a very rare tie vote-- 24 to 24.   Lt. Gov. Stack (D) had to break the tie by voting no.
Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 76, was not present to vote because he apparently had to attend a previously scheduled fundraiser in Pittsburgh.  
One Senate seat was vacant until the swearing in of Sen.-Elect Guy Reschenthaler (R-Allegheny)... Tuesday.
Were the two Senate absences deliberate?  It remains a mystery.
On Tuesday evening, after more fruitless budget discussions, Senate Republicans threatened to try an override of Gov. Wolf’s veto of the stopgap budget Republicans passed in September.  
Less than an hour after the threat was issued, and a meeting held between Senate and House Leaders and Gov. Wolf, the threat was rescinded with the announcement budget talks have resumed.
At the same time, Republicans said the effort to use a Sales Tax increase to fund $1.4 billion in additional school property tax relief as agreed to in the budget framework was dropped because many of their own members and Democrats would not vote for it.  
Somehow, they said, they would look for other revenue sources.  And that’s where matters came to an uncomfortable rest before the holiday.  
Wednesday, Gov. Wolf took time to tweet his family’s recipe for Thanksgiving stuffing.  A hidden message there?  Another mystery.
Meanwhile, counties struggling to deal with the lack of state funding said they would begin to withhold millions in fees and other monies they collect and pass on to the state, if the budget impasse continues.  Other counties threatened to sue the state to release the funding they are owed.
The House, nose to the grindstone, added voting days to the schedule, including through Saturday of next week (which will never happen) to show they are working hard.  They also added December 10, 11 and 12 (another Thursday, Friday and Saturday that won’t happen) to their schedule.
Unless, of course, they have something to vote on.
Many House Republicans also announced they would forgo the food, fun and shopping of New York City by not attending the Pennsylvania Society dinner the weekend of December 12 if there was no budget.  Since this year’s awardee is former Gov. Ed Rendell (D), it probably didn’t take much convincing for them to make that decision.
Then again, Donald Trump was just announced as the headline speaker at the marquee December 11 Commonwealth Club luncheon, a pre-PA Society dinner event.  A photo with Trump and admission to the VIP section only costs $2,500 per.
The Senate added December 2 as a voting day, but apparently unrelated to budget issues.  Presumably, they will continue the process of removing indicted Attorney General Kathleen Kane now that its Special Committee on Senate Address Wednesday said it had enough information to proceed to take a vote.
The Senate did take time from its busy schedule to delve into foreign policy by adopting, largely along party lines, a resolution-- Senate Resolution 248 (Rafferty-R-Montgomery) on blocking Syrian refugees-- sponsored by a declared Republican candidate for Attorney General.
Otherwise, the Senate is scheduled to return to session December 7-- Pearl Harbor Day.
Speaking of spending money, Saturday’s PA Bulletin also brought the official news that House and Senate members would not be getting a cost of living raise for their efforts next year.
There are now only 65 days to Gov. Wolf’s second budget address-- February 2-- Groundhog Day.
Are we likely to see a replay of the, as yet, unfinished budget process from this year?  There are hints.
Gov. Wolf has already said he is bringing back a natural gas severance tax in his new budget proposal next year to fund something [most likely a Growing Greener III environmental restoration program] even though it did not have significant bipartisan support [sic] last time around.
What will the next plot twist be?  How will our heroes resolve the crisis?
Tune in next week….