Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

House Leaves Town Without Finishing Debate On Natural Gas Severance Tax Bill

After two days of debate and considering 20 or so amendments to House Bill 1401 (DiGirolamo-R-Bucks) imposing a natural gas severance tax, the House abruptly adjourned Tuesday night without finishing work on the bill.
Before leaving, the House considered amendments to the bill most of which were voted down by very slim margins.  These are the amendments that got in--
-- Moving To Title 58: A4529 (Maher-R-Allegheny) voted 191 to 2 to amend the bill to move the existing language from the Tax Code to Title 58 relating to Oil and Gas.  As a result, a significant number of amendments were no longer germane to the bill and were out of order.
-- Deemed Approved Oil & Gas Permits: A4214 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin), on the second try, adopted a new provision 97 to 95 that declares oil and gas well-related permits deemed approved if DEP did not finish their review by the deadlines imposed by existing law by a vote of 97 to 95.  This was one of the environmental riders in the original Senate-passed budget package agreed to by the Senate and the Wolf Administration.
-- Freeze On Oil & Gas Permit Fees: A4208 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) voted 100 to 93 to freeze existing unconventional well permit fees through January 1, 2021 (4 years). DEP is now working on a proposal to increase the fees to pay for Oil and Gas Program regulatory costs.
-- Reallocation Of Revenue: A4424 (Lawrence-R-Chester) voted 178 to 13 to direct the first $150 million generated by the tax to the General Fund and any remaining funds would be divided equally between the state employee and school employee retirement funds.  The previous language in the bill would direct all the revenue to the General Fund, which Rep. DiGirolamo said would only generate around $150 million or so a year.  The revenue in this bill does not benefit any environmental programs.
-- Move Wells 50 Feet Without New Permit: A4203 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin) was approved  100 to 91 to amend the bill to allow an oil and gas permit holder to move a well a maximum of 50 feet from the original permitted location without getting a new permit.
-- Multi-Year Well Permits: A4209 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) provides DEP with option of multi-year well permits authorized by regulations passed 189 to 1.
-- Replaced Water Supply Protection Provisions:  A4207 (Cutler-R-Lancaster) replaced the existing provisions in the Oil and Gas law related to replacement of water supplies affected by oil and gas drilling, including the rebuttable presumption provisions by a vote of 128 to 68.
The amendment takes out provisions now in Act 13 of 2012 saying replacement water supplies must meet “the standards established under the act of May 1, 1984 (P.L.206, No.43), known as the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act, or is comparable to the quality of the water supply before it was affected by the operator if that water supply exceeded those standards" and leaves in language that says a well operator "shall restore or replace the affected supply with an alternate source of water adequate in quantity or quality for the purposes served by the supply." The Environmental Quality Board is directed to promulgate new regulations defining replacement water supply quality so the General Assembly has oversight of the requirement when a regulation is adopted.  This has been a point of disagreement with the industry for some time.
Amendments Voted Down/Withdrawn
The House narrowly voted down amendments that would have--
-- Renamed The Impact Fee: Amendment A4531 (Maher-R-Allegheny) simply renaming the existing Act 13 drilling impact fee a “severance tax” by a vote of 84 to 109;
-- Limited Forced Pooling: A4651 (Oberlander-R-Armstrong) providing for a limited forced pooling requirement for extracting natural gas from unrelated gas lessors was voted down 51 to 142.
-- Eliminating The Severance Tax Thru Credits: Amendment A4126 (Ortitay-R-Allegheny) was withdrawn that would have eliminated severance tax revenue by giving a well driller credit for the impact fees paid.
-- 2-Year Moratorium On All DEP Regulations: Voted down A4190 (Oberlander-R- Armstrong) 85 to 107 a 2-year moratorium on DEP adopting, promulgating or submitting for public comment of  any “regulations, technical guidance, general permits, permit conditions or rulemaking of any kind” and reassign staff to review permit applications.
DEP may adopt or promulgate technical guidance documents or policy statements “to protect or preserve the health, safety or welfare of the people of this Commonwealth in order to avoid or mitigate an imminent or occurring emergency or other natural disaster.”
The Environmental Quality Board may promulgate regulations “to protect or preserve the health, safety or welfare of the people of this Commonwealth in order to avoid or mitigate an imminent or occurring emergency or other natural disaster.”
-- Allowing Drillers To Start Well Pads, Access Roads Without Permits: A4204 (Oberlander-R-Armstrong) would have allowed well drillers to begin earth disturbance activity on new well sites and access roads only with a written notice to the surface landowner or if they obtained an oil and gas well permit.  It eliminated the requirement for any DEP permits at this stage.  The amendment was withdrawn after debate.
-- Allowing Drillers To Operate Then Get Permits:  A4411 (C.Quinn-R-Delaware) gives unconventional oil and gas operations 30 days after operations begin under a provisional permit to apply for any other needed DEP air quality permits failed 74 to 117.
-- Moratorium On Seismic Impact Conditions: A4532 (Benninghoff-R-Mifflin) providing for a moratorium on any DEP or EQB action to promulgate any guidance, policy, technical guidance, permit or rule on induced seismicity until DEP does a peer-reviewed study of potential seismic impacts associated with “underground activities” was “over” without taking a vote.  DEP added conditions to two underground drilling waste injection wells in Elk, Indiana counties in March related to seismic activity.
-- Well Pad Restoration Requirements: A4206 (Oberlander-R-Armstrong) requiring the restoration of drilling well pads within 24 months on well pads with multiple wells failed 93 to 97.
-- Undoing Minimum Royalty Provisions: A4292 (Bloom-R-Cumberland) to prohibit any part of the bill to the impair existing contracts which was designed to nullify the provisions related to minimum royalty requirements was “over” and not voted on.
-- Give Manufacturer’s Tax Credit To Drilling Companies: A4517 (Marshall-R-Beaver) making drilling companies paying severance tax eligible for $4 million Manufacturers’ Tax Credit for payments made failed 93 to 99.
The House plans to return to voting session on December 4, but no word yet on when or if they will pick up consideration of the bill.
(Photo: Dodging most of the worst amendment bullets so far.)

Vote Now Thru Dec. 22 For Pennsylvania's 2018 River Of The Year

The public is invited to again vote online for the 2018 Pennsylvania River of the Year, choosing from among five waterways nominated across the state, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn announced Tuesday.
The last day for voting is December 22.
“Regardless of what waterway finishes first, this competition fuels community support around our rivers and streams, and puts them in the public limelight,” said DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn. “All have truly unique attributes; offer incredible recreational opportunities; and offer significant boosts to local economies.”
Waterways nominated for 2018 are the Connoquenessing Creek, Lackawanna River, Little Juniata River, Lower Susquehanna River/Susquehanna Riverlands, and the Loyalsock Creek.  Click Here to learn more about each nominee.
The River of the Year website enables voting and more information on the River of the Year program. Voting will be managed through Woobox, an online contest application that restricts voting to one vote per email address.
Nominations were based on each waterway’s conservation needs and successes, as well as celebration plans should the nominee be voted 2018 River of the Year.
In cooperation with DCNR, selection of public voting choices is overseen by the PA Organization for Watersheds and Rivers, an affiliate of the PA Environmental Council.
“The online public selection process continues to be increasingly popular as it enters its eighth year,” Dunn said.  
Presented annually since 1983, this year’s 2017 designation was awarded to the Allegheny River.
"The River of the Year contest allows all Pennsylvanians to highlight the many wonderful waterways they enjoy” said Janet Sweeney, PA Organization for Watersheds and Rivers. “While we formally recognize only one river with this award, we acknowledge the unique value of all rivers and their contribution to the overall environmental quality of Pennsylvania and the quality of life for all who enjoy them."
After a waterway is chosen for the annual honor, local groups implement a year-round slate of activities and events to celebrate the river, including a paddling trip, or sojourn.
The organization nominating the winning river will receive a $10,000 leadership grant from DCNR to help fund River of the Year activities.
POWR and DCNR also work with local organizations to create a free, commemorative poster celebrating the River of the Year.
Click Here for more on the nominees. Click Here to vote.
The River of the Year sojourn is just one of many paddling trips supported by DCNR and POWR each year.  An independent program, the Pennsylvania Sojourn Program, is a unique series of a dozen such trips on the state’s rivers.
These water-based journeys for canoeists, kayakers and others raise awareness of the environmental, recreational, tourism and heritage values of rivers.
To learn more about rivers in Pennsylvania, visit POWR’s 2018 Pennsylvania River of the Year webpage or  DCNR’s Rivers Program webpage.
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WKOK: Why It’s Important To Name The Eastern Hellbender State Amphibian

WKOK: Why It’s Important To Name The Eastern Hellbender State Amphibian.  Click Here to read the story.  

Penn State Extension Master Gardener Manual Available

Whether you're new to gardening or an expert looking to sharpen your skills, the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Manual may be just what you need.  Gain horticultural knowledge in a variety of topics, including:
-- Herbaceous, woody, and native plant care;
-- Vegetable gardening recommendations;
-- Tree fruit and small fruit cultivation;
-- Pruning, composting, plant propagation, and other gardening practices;
-- Soil health and fertilizer management;
-- Integrated pest management;
-- Plant disease and weed control;
-- Lawn care, landscape design, and gardening equipment; and
-- Gardening for wildlife.
With 800 pages of science-based knowledge and 600 photographs, there’s a wealth of knowledge to be found in the Penn State Extension Master Gardener Manual.
Don't garden without it!  Click Here to get your copy.

Legislation Requiring PUC Oversight Of Pittsburgh Water Authority Headed To Governor’s Desk

Legislation-- House Bill 1490-- to place the Pittsburgh Water Authority under the oversight of the Public Utility Commission is on its way to the governor’s desk after being passed in the House Monday for the final time, said House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) and Rep. Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny).
Over the last year, local and national newspapers have recounted many service issues facing PWSA. They include multi-million dollar debt and uncollectible accounts, unmetered accounts, incorrect billing, system leaks, and thousands of lead service lines, many of which have not been identified or located.
Most recently, they have been cited with non-compliance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Clean Water Act violations. These issues call into serious question the sustainability of PWSA and the health and safety of those served by the system.
“The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been grossly mismanaged,” said Rep. Turzai.  “The state had to step in.  Working in a bipartisan fashion with my good friend, Rep. Harry Readshaw, we knew something needed to be done.  We developed a solution that will provide more oversight, ensure fiscal responsibility and demand best practices.  The authority needs to be held to the same standards as the private sector.”
“This legislation is about consumer protection and the health and safety of those served by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority,” said Rep. Readshaw. “This is really a commonsense approach that will move the system in a positive direction.”
A consultant’s report issued in August by Infrastructure Management Group called the PWSA “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure.”  The report noted a dysfunctional culture at the authority and exposed the fact that about 20 percent of PWSA’s 250 employees are out of work on short-term disability.
In addition, a recent performance audit released by the state auditor general’s office highlighted several of the deficiencies with the PWSA’s operation.  They include:
-- Under a 1995 agreement with the city, the PWSA is required to provide 600 million gallons of free water each year.  However, the PWSA does not track how much water the city uses annually because many city-owned properties are not metered.
-- Between 2012 and 2016, PWSA’s financial position went from a positive balance of $7.7 million to a negative balance of $15.7 million.
-- As of Dec. 31, 2016, PWSA has a debt load of $842.5 million, which has grown by $43.2 million since Dec. 31, 2012.
-- PWSA is not able to bill for approximately 50 percent of clean water its system produces due to leaky pipes and unbilled accounts.
-- Since 2014, four individuals have served as executive director.
-- Billing irregularities frequently occur, including a complete lack of billing for thousands of customers for a period of several months arising from changes in PWSA’s billing system and the installation of new meters.
Rep. Turzai said PUC oversight is crucial to correcting the authority’s long-standing difficulties. The PUC has the power to demand sound financial practices, systemic upgrades to infrastructure and reliable service delivery to customers.
A House Fiscal Note and summary is available.
Gov. Wolf is expected to sign the legislation into law.
PUC Commitment To Customers
“We appreciate the unique nature of the situation involving the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, and understand that interacting with the PUC is going to be a new process – for PWSA staff, for local and state leaders, and for Pittsburgh area residents,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown. “The challenges facing PWSA are complex and will require the involvement of all stakeholders. For our part, the PUC is committed to addressing these issues in a transparent manner, working to ensure an open flow of information to the families, businesses and institutions who depend on these services.”
With the approval of this legislation, the Commission can now move forward with an implementation process for assuming jurisdiction over PWSA – which will be adopted at a future PUC public meeting. This will detail the process for PUC consideration of rates and tariffs; infrastructure improvement plans; billing and customer service issues; and other applicable regulations.
Under the legislation, the PUC will begin accepting complaints from PWSA customers on April 1, 2018. The Commission is in the process of training staff and making other necessary preparations to handle those complaints. Until April 1st, customers with complaints should continue to contact the PWSA customer service center, at 412-255-2423.
“The Commission has extensive experience with water and wastewater utilities across the state – ranging in size from a few dozen customers to more than 600,000,” Chairman Brown noted. “Over the years we have worked with many ‘troubled’ systems, which has taught us that there are no instant or magic solutions. It will require time, hard work and a shared commitment to developing and implementing the plans that will move Pittsburgh forward.”
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PUC Encourages Shopping For Electric, Natural Gas Service On Black Friday

The Public Utility Commission Tuesday encouraged consumers to add electric and natural gas shopping to their Black Friday “To Do” lists, and offered its “Top Five” list of tips for energy savings and shopping.
“With winter on our doorstep, now is a good time for consumers to review their energy bills and explore ways to reduce both usage and costs,” said PUC Chairman Gladys M. Brown.  “That includes taking time to shop for their electric and natural gas supply, both of which can be easily done using PUC websites from the convenience and comfort of their homes.”
Chairman Brown encouraged consumers to visit the PUC’s and websites for detailed information about energy shopping and current offers from various energy suppliers, and provided a “Top Five” list of Black Friday tips for consumers, including: Shop for Energy Offers; Consider Conservation and Energy Efficiency; Ask for Assistance; Monitor Energy Bills; Report Problems; and Shopping for Energy.
The PUC recommends that consumers regularly review their contracts and bills from electric and natural gas suppliers to be familiar with key factors like pricing, term length and fees, including monthly fees and cancellation fees.
With current price and consumption information in hand (more information below), and are excellent online sources for detailed information about offers from various energy suppliers.  
The PUC also encourages consumers to discuss energy issues with family members, especially relatives who may be older, may not have Internet access or may be initially uncomfortable with shopping for alternate electric or natural gas supply.
Conservation and Energy Efficiency
Consumers should review monthly bills to better understand their actual energy usage. That information can help evaluate the potential savings related to conservation and efficiency projects, such as switching to LED lighting, weatherization, programmable thermostats and other improvements.
Steps undertaken now can help save money and provide greater comfort and safety during the coldest and darkest months of the year. PAPowerSwitch and PAGasSwitch also include interactive tips and videos on how to conserve energy, save money and stay more comfortable.
Ask for Assistance
Information about various energy assistance programs also is available on the PUC’s website, as part of the Commission’s annual “Prepare Now” campaign.
Consumers on limited or fixed incomes are encouraged to call their utility company about programs to help heat their homes or pay their energy bills, such as Customer Assistance Programs and Low Income Usage Reduction Programs.
Other aid also may be available, such as grants under the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program – which is administered by the Department of Human Services.  
Monitor Energy Bills
Consumers should carefully monitor their monthly utility bills, along with the financial accounts used for bill payment.  Any questions or concerns about pricing, payment processing, meter readings or changes in energy consumption should be raised with utilities as soon as possible.
Report Problems
The PUC’s Bureau of Consumer Services (BCS) is available to help consumers resolve disputes with utilities, but it is important that any potential issue be immediately brought to the attention of the utility. 
In most cases issues are quickly resolved – but more challenging problems may require intervention through the informal or formal complaint process. BCS can be reached toll-free at 1-800-692-7380.

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