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Republicans On House Environmental Committee Report Out Bill Redefining Water Pollution, Letting Companies Decide When To Report Spills


House Bill 1842 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster) making fundamental changes to the definition of water pollution under the state Clean Streams Law effectively making most spills and discharges to rivers and streams no longer pollution.

The bill also lets an individual or company who causes pollution to surface or groundwater, rather than DEP, determine if any spill should even be reported to DEP and whether it is pollution in the first place. 

The bill is a companion to Senate Bill 619 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) introduced last session at the request of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation which was unhappy with an April 17, 2017 settlement with DEP over an appeal of a stormwater pollution prevention permit for its West Point, Montgomery County plant (Environmental Hearing Board Docket No. 2015-011-L).

Environmental, conservation, wildlife and many other groups have opposed this legislation.  Read more here.

A gut-and-replace amendment was made to the bill by Republicans still fundamentally redefines water pollution, leaving it up to the company to determine when to report a spill, but would require the Environmental Quality Board to come up with regulations to set reportable quantities of spills, “readily ascertainable standards by which a person would determine whether a spill will render waters harmful to public health or the environment.

The Clean Streams Law now simply says, “contamination of any waters of the Commonwealth such as will create or is likely to create a nuisance or to render such waters harmful, detrimental or injurious to public health, safety or welfare, or to domestic, municipal, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational, or other legitimate beneficial uses, or to livestock, wild animals, birds, fish or other aquatic life.”

The amendment makes it look like Senate Bill 545 (Yaw-R-Lycoming).  Read more here.

[Note: Environmental criminal charges brought by Attorney General Shapiro against the Mariner East Pipeline demonstrate clearly why the obligation of reporting pollution needs to be crystal clear, and not left up to the company causing the pollution. Read more here.]

The other bill on the agenda–  House Bill 598 (Oberlander-R-Clarion) would limit actions to create prescriptive easements to public entities like state agencies and local governments, not private entities– was also reported out of Committee..

For any existing litigation, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would be substituted for the private entity trying to claim the public easement under this legislation.

The bills now go to the full House for consideration.

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: [email protected]. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: [email protected]

[Posted: October 5, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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