Friday 24 May 2019

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is in the process of deciding whether to pass a suite of bills that would jeopardize our clean water protections. The bills would create unnecessary levels of bureaucracy and slow down progress on any environmental regulations that further protect our waterways from pollution. Here’s what a few of the more problematic bills would do:

  • House Bill 430 (PN 417) -  This bill would prohibit Pennsylvania state agencies, like the Department of Environmental Protection, from reissuing the same or similar regulations in the future, unless the regulation is authorized specifically by the state legislature. Not only does this present a separation of powers issue, but it would prevent state agencies from acting expeditiously to correct, tweak, or improve existing environmental regulations.
  • House Bill 509 (PN 945) - This bill would require state agencies to contract with “third-party professionals” to review and make decisions on permit applications. This would open the door for conflicts of interest where the “professional” reviewing the environmental permit application is actually in the pockets of the company applying for the permit. This runs counter to fact that the state government is accountable to Pennsylvania citizens. Additionally, this bill would prevent any new laws from applying to existing permits.
  • House Bill 806 (PN 899) and House Bill 507 (PN 636) - This bill would give the legislature effective veto power over the promulgation of all new regulations. Any new regulation would need to be approved by the legislature within ten days, or it would be effectively vetoed. With the state legislature meeting on a sporadic basis, this could halt any new clean water regulation from coming through.

These are just a few of the bills in the suite of proposed legislation that would halt any future progress from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Tell Pennsylvania legislators to OPPOSE House Bills 430, 507, 509, 762, 806, and 1055 today! The House of Representatives will next meet on April 29th - time is of the essence!

On Earth Day, We Salute Our Waterkeepers Featured

The first Earth Day 49 years ago sparked grassroots advocacy around the nation that led to the passage of the Clean Water Act, among many other landmark environmental protection laws. Along side this historic movement for better environmental protections, the Waterkeeper movement was born. This year, Waterkeeper Alliance celebrates its 20th anniversary. Waterkeepers Chesapeake and all of our member Waterkeeper programs are proud members of this global alliance. We fight alongside more than 300 amazing Waterkeeper groups around the world who are doing their part to take on the global water crisis.

We would like to share with you a few of our “water wins” here in the Chesapeake and Coastal Bay regions. Our local Waterkeepers are your on-the-water (and sometimes in the air) advocates for your local waterways. Working locally and building teams to tackle complex threats to our waterways takes a great deal of collaboration, coordination and time. We count on you – so please contact your local Waterkeeper today to find out how you can get involved and support them!

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit that resulted in the local power plant installing cooling technology for its wastewater discharges that has reduced the severity of fish kills. 
- Ted Evgeniadis, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper

Shenandoah Riverkeeper has cut the number of cattle directly accessing the river, and defecating into it, by half, drastically reducing nutrient pollution.
- Mark Frondorf, Shenandoah Riverkeeper
Waterkeepers Chesapeake played a significant role in permanently banning fracking in Maryland. 
- Katlyn Schmitt, Waterkeepers Chesapeake
Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper helped win fines, allocated for watershed improvements, from a gasoline pipeline company after a rupture. 
- Carol Parenzan, Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper
Gunpowder Riverkeeper in Maryland used legal action to halt a natural gas pipeline that would have endangered drinking water for up to 1.5 million people.
-Theaux Le Gardeur, Gunpowder Riverkeeper
Potomac Riverkeeper convinced Alexandria, VA to go beyond minimum federal requirements and approve a plan to eliminate 70 million gallons of sewage and stormwater discharges to the Potomac River each year.
- Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper
Patuxent Riverkeeper won a civil right agreement that requires Maryland agencies to widen the scope of its environmental fairness analysis when reviewing applications to build new fossil fuels plants and broadens the role that overburdened communities will have in the power plant application process.  
- Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper
After years of pressure from Potomac Riverkeeper and James Riverkeeper, Virginia will require that all 28 million tons of legacy coal ash in the Commonwealth be moved from leaking coal ash ponds and recycled or safely landfilled. 
- Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper, & Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper
Choptank Riverkeeper worked to pass a law in Maryland to permanently protect and restore the 5 large-scale oyster restoration sanctuaries including Harris Creek, Tred Avon River and the Little Choptank River which are all part of the Choptank River complex. 
- Matt Pluta, Choptank Riverkeeper
South Riverkeeper worked to pass a law in Maryland requiring local governments to report their erosion and sediment control efforts statewide, bringing transparency to government, and ultimately, to receiving waters.
- Jesse Iliff, South Riverkeeper
Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper won a lawsuit against EPA for failure to evaluate whether stormwater from commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities is contributing to water quality degradation in the Back River.
- Angela Haren, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper
After successfully helping pass a styrofoam ban in Baltimore, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper helped pass a statewide ban in Maryland, the first state to ban foam!
- Angela Haren, Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper
Assateague Coastkeeper won a challenge against Maryland to reverse a permit approval for a proposed concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), the first time such a reversal of a flawed permit has been made.
- Kathy Phillips, Assateague Coastkeeper
Waterkeepers Chesapeake led the effort to pass phosphorus management regulations in Maryland, protecting waterways from pollution resulting from excess manure being spread on fields.
- Betsy Nicholas, Waterkeepers Chesapeake

Executive Order is a clear move to benefit major oil and gas companies and expedite controversial infrastructure against the wishes of states.

President Trump released an Executive Order last week that seeks to restrict every state’s authority under the Clean Water Act. This authority allows state regulators to assess whether a major project, like a pipeline or dam, would have a negative impact on the state’s waterways - or more specifically, its water quality standards. This Order is even more alarming given a string of Executive Orders released from President Trump, such as the one giving himself the sole authority to approve major pipelines crossing international borders -- which was previously the responsibility of the U.S. Department of the State. 

Under the Clean Water Act (Sec. 401), a federal agency cannot issue a federal permit or license for a project that runs through state waters without first obtaining the state’s approval of the project. In 2017, Washington State used this authority to stop the construction of a coal terminal that would have been detrimental to the state’s waterways. Likewise, New York has used this authority to stop natural gas pipelines from coming through the state - citing concerns for the state’s streams and wetlands. Other states, like Maryland, have used this authority to “place conditions” - or certain water quality protections - on a major project.

State authority to review, place conditions on, or deny major projects coming through their borders is explicit under the Clean Water Act and has been strongly backed by the court system. This includes two major Supreme Court cases that resound the importance of state authority over these types of projects. 

The Executive Order is a clear move to benefit major oil and gas companies, like Energy Transfer, and expedite controversial infrastructure against the wishes of states - like President Trump’s proposed border wall. 

If implemented, the Executive Order seeks to make it harder for states to conduct an adequate review of major projects that cross the state’s waterways. In fact, five of the six policies established under the Executive Order have nothing to do with clean waterand everything to do with encouraging speedy actions, having a “single point of accountability” (i.e. FERC) and promoting energy companies. Only one of the six policies mentions “effective stewardship of America’s natural resources.”

The Executive Order prioritizes economic considerations over existing clean water protections. The whole purpose of the Clean Water Act was to improve the quality of the country’s waterways -- which were heavily over-polluted at the time of its passage. It’s the primary vehicle that ensures the health and safety of our waterways, yet this Order is seeking to heavily restrict the only section that gives states robust authority to protect their own waterways. More specifically, it orders the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a Guidance that will “clarify” any existing practices related to state authority under the Clean Water Act (i.e. the ability to conduct a thorough review of major projects) in light of the new policies under the Executive Order that shift the focus away from clean water. 

Not only is this a major threat to the successes we’ve had under the Clean Water Act thus far, it’s a slap in the face to state sovereignty. States have the greatest access to information regarding their own waterways and the best ability to determine whether a major project – such as the relicensing of the Conowingo Dam  may have an impact on water quality. Despite this, the Executive Order would hinder every state’s ability to determine which projects can be allowed near or through its own waterways. 

We will be working closely with our region’s states to assess and challenge the Guidance EPA’s plans to issue this summer. We anticipate that this Executive Order will be challenged in court as it is a clear attempt to strip states’ explicit authority granted under the Clean Water Act.