Late Sunday night, Republicans adopted an amendment to the Fiscal Code that would halt DEP’s process for regulating oil and gas.
The amendment hadn’t been proposed or debated previously before randomly showing up on Sunday night, likely at the behest of fossil fuel lobbyists.
David Hess at PA Environment Daily explains that while the stated goal is to section off conventional oil and gas drilling from new regulations on unconventional drilling, which DEP has been retooling for years now, the language is so broad that it could potentially be used to run out the clock on the new unconventional drilling regulations.
The language in the amendment said the process used by DEP to propose the regulations was “invalid” with respect to conventional wells, but the language could be interpreted to also apply to unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells since they both used the same process stopping that process as well.The same tactic– amending the Fiscal Code– was used last year by conventional well drillers to direct DEP to adopt separate regulations for conventional and unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells.
The Fiscal Code has been a convenient vehicle used by the Senate and House to adopt laws that do not go through any committees, not subjected to public hearings and are not voted on by either chamber.
In fact, the language and concept of killing regulations for conventional well drillers added to Senate Bill 655 didn’t even not appear in any Senate or House bill before it suddenly appeared Sunday night.
What’s behind this play? It’s actually much bigger than just the carve-out for conventional drillers.
As Marie Cusick explains over at StateImpact, throwing a bunch of sand in the gears to slow roll the rule-writing could have the much more serious consequence of forcing regulators to start the process over if dirty energy lobbyists succeed in running out the clock:
The DEP has spent four years revising its oil and gas regulations and held numerous public meetings. The draft rules, known as Chapter 78, must be finished by next March or the agency risks having to start the process all over again. Shortly after Governor Wolf took office, the DEP made a slew of significant changes– imposing more stringent rules for things like waste, noise, and streams. Both conventional and unconventional drillers havesharply criticized the agency for the updates.
As Dave Hess reminds us, the idea to carve out conventional drillers is nuts on its own, as PA has some of the weakest resource extraction regulations in the country to begin with.
But arguably the bigger danger here is this parliamentary “innovation” Republicans are using here. They’re doing an end-run around the actual public process that’s been established because they don’t like what the outcome is going to be.
Opposing environmental protection is unpopular, and they don’t want to have to defend that view publicly, so they’re turning to the Fiscal Code which doesn’t require any committee hearings or public meetings.
If this is allowed to become the precedent, DEP isn’t going to be able to do its job. If they get away with using a sham process to block regulations for conventional oil and gas drilling this time, you can be sure they’ll use it to block urgently-needed regulations for unconventional drilling and methane leakage next.
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