Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rift grows between Pa. Gov. Wolf and environmentalists

Marie Cusick reports for StateImpact:
As Pennsylvania’s July 1 budget deadline looms, Governor Tom Wolf is finding common ground with the Republican-led legislature on bills affecting climate change policy and regulations for the oil and gas industry.
But it’s leading to a growing rift between his administration and environmentalists.
“He’s caving on the environment”
“The environment has historically been the low man on the totem pole in budget negotiations,”says Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware).  ”It’s frequently been traded off by the Democrats to get other things.”
Last week Vitali called a press conference to blast Wolf for what he views as a failure to prioritize the environment. Vitali is particularly upset the governor is on board with a Republican-led effort to kill tougher regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry.
“I don’t know why he’s caving on the environment, but he clearly is caving,” Vitali says.
The conventional industry drills shallower wells and get far less attention than the deeper, newer operations in the Marcellus Shale. But the number of producing conventional wells stands at more than 74,000 statewide and dwarfs the number of Marcellus wells. In 2014 the conventional industry was cited for 1,449 environmental violations.
Joanne Kilgour heads the state chapter of the Sierra Club and points out the proposed Chapter 78 regulations were almost complete. They’ve been in the works for five years, as part of a process that began under Wolf’s predecessor, Republican Governor Tom Corbett. In April the regulations were approved by a state commission, which found they were in the public interest.
“It would be unacceptable and offensive for any lawmaker to agree to a compromise that would abrogate any portion of this rulemaking,” says Kilgour.
Likewise, Rep. Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery County) opposes efforts to torpedo them at the eleventh hour.
“Those regulations were long in the making,” he says. “Yet in the span of less than hour the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee voted to set them aside.”
Bureaucrats “run wild”
Republicans see things differently. Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny) chairs the committee and says the measure is an effort to rein in bureaucrats who have “run wild” at the state Department of Environmental Protection and overstepped their authority. The rules for the conventional industry are too similar to those designed for the Marcellus Shale drillers, he says. So, they need to go.
“The governor’s on board with this bill as it stands right now,” Maher told the House Tuesday. “This is one of those happy moments when we actually see the legislature and the governor sitting down and sorting things out.”
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