Critics Say Fiscal Bill Would Impede Emission-Reduction Plan

Dec 10, 2015

 

Shown is the Pennsylvania House of Representatives chamber, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015.
Credit Matt Rourke / AP

Environmentalist groups are protesting provisions advancing through the Pennsylvania Legislature as part of budget-related bill.

More than a half-dozen organizations signed a  statement on Thursday as senators overwhelmingly approved the 76-page bill Thursday, barely 24 hours after it became public.

Two of those organizations, PennFuture and National Resources Defense Council, called for Gov. Tom Wolf to veto the bill. Officials with both groups said Friday the terms of the HB 1327, which amends the state's fiscal code, are inappropriate.

“The fiscal code is supposed to deal with appropriations,” said Mark Szybist, senior program advocate for National Resources Defense Council. “This is not an appropriations issue. It really has no place in the fiscal code and in fact it might be unconstitutional to be there.”

Larry Schweiger, president and CEO of PennFuture, said he thinks he knows why the bill got approved so quickly.

“Because the Pennsylvania Society is having a big gala in New York where the gas industry will be in full force," he said. "Lawmakers want to jam this through the system to get off to their party. ... It’s a sad day for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Several Pennsylvania lawmakers have canceled their New York City reservations due to the budget impasse.

Among the new provisions is a federally required state plan for reducing carbon emissions from power plants that the Department of Environmental Protection projects would finish by the September 2016 deadline.

Szybist said the NRDC has two main concerns with the bill.

One, it would extend the legislative review period from 100 days to 180 days, which critics say will cut into time the DEP needs to hold hearings and write a thorough report. Szybist said this doesn’t make a lot of sense because the legislature will have more time to review the plan than the DEP would have actually to write it.

According to Schweiger, if the bill is passed, the best case scenario is that it will push off any real action until 2018. Worst case, it will “stymie the progress,” forcing the EPA to step in and take over the program.

NRDC officials also cited “ambiguous language,” which makes it unclear whether a date refers to September 2016 or 2018 and could result in delays.

Schweiger said he thinks it’s extremely important that lawmakers not focus on the gas industry but on the people of Pennsylvania.

“They have an obligation. It’s a constitutional obligation to protect the environment, and they’re not living up to that,” he said.

Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher called the provision a technical clarification.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.