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Bill In State House Would Loosen Pollution Reporting Requirements

Kimberly Paynter
John Jackson, senior research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center, measure conductivity in the White Clay Creek stream.

A measure to loosen reporting requirements for possible water contamination is heading to the state House floor.

The Department of Environmental Protection opposes it, saying the bill basically lets companies decide if a spill is pollution and should be reported.

The DEP interprets the Clean Streams Law to require companies to report all unauthorized spills, regardless of size.

Under the legislation, dischargers would only have to report spills that may cause a violation of water quality criteria under DEP regulation or that are reportable under federal requirements. Accidental discharges that do not cause a violation of numeric water quality criteria would not be considered pollution.

“The purpose of The Clean Streams Law is to regulate and control potentially harmful discharges,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) said in a sponsorship memo, “not to impose an impractical and unnecessary requirement on every business and individual in the Commonwealth to report every drop spilled at their facilities or homes.”

Opponents argue a lot of pollutants, such as the group of chemicals known as PFAS, don’t have a numeric water quality standard. That does not make them less harmful. They also said it would be difficult to know at the moment of a spill if it will endanger a waterway or groundwater.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the new law would protect individuals and businesses from “arbitrary judgements by bureaucrats.”

Rep. MaryLouise Isaacson (D-Philadelphia) said that’s not the legislature’s role.

“Our responsibility, constitutionally, is to protect the air and the land and the water of the commonwealth for the citizens of the commonwealth,” she said.

The bill narrowly passed the Senate last year.

It’s opposed by a collection of sportsmen’s and environmental groups, including Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among WESA, The Allegheny Front, WITF and WHYY.