Saturday 22 September 2018

What’s the Scoop? What You Need to Know about the 2018 Virginia and Pennsylvania Legislative Sessions Featured

The Waterkeepers and Riverkeepers in our coalition are vigilantly working to make the waters of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays swimmable and fishable. Together, the Waterkeepers Chesapeake network patrols thousands of miles of tributaries and shorelines throughout the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, and are at the forefront of water quality related enforcement and advocacy efforts in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. Earlier this month we shared our legislative victories in Maryland. Here’s what you need to know about the 2018 Virginia and Pennsylvania (so far) legislative sessions.

In Virginia, from January to March this year the James Riverkeeper and others worked hard to protect oyster sanctuaries across the state. Fortunately, they were successful in defeating a bill which would have placed these invaluable sanctuaries at risk (for the second year in a row!). Next week, Virginia will be considering its state budget - with a proposal from Governor McAuliffe that supports the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, Virginia Outdoors Foundation and Environmental Education. There are also multiple proposals from the Senate, like $20 million for the Stormwater Local Assistance Fund and funding for oyster restoration and replenishment, that we are supportive of. Find out more about the Virginia’s budget proposals here.

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Potomac Riverkeeper joined James Riverkeeper to address the threats associated with coal ash in the Virginia legislature. They successfully advocated for the passage of Senate Bill 807, which prevents the Virginia Department from Environmental Quality (DEQ) from issuing any new coal ash solid waste permits at Dominion until July 1, 2019. This will not prevent DEQ from issuing permits from the closure of ponds that coal ash has been moved out of. The bill also requires a report by December 2018 that reviews the amount of recyclable coal ash at each coal ash pond, the costs associated with recycling, and the market demand for recycled ash.

Another bill Waterkeepers Chesapeake was closely watching - Senate Bill 950 - was signed by the Governor at the end of March. This bill requires DEQ to conduct a Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification, or additional reviews and analysis of potential water quality impacts, of any new pipeline (larger than 36 inches in diameter) within one year of receiving an application for construction. This bill will bring Virginia in line with federal court rulings that a state must ‘use or lose’ its Clean Water Act authority to conduct additional reviews on major infrastructure projects within a year of receiving a permit application.

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In Pennsylvania, the legislative session will run through the end of June - so there’s still a fighting chance on a few environmental policies! We’ve seen a few victories in the Senate, with the passage of the sunset of the Recycling Fund and a fix to the Sewage Facilities Act. We’ve also seen a few losses, like House Bill 1959, which passed in the House and would create a new third party permit review bureaucracy at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. This bill represents yet another attempt to give potentially biased third parties the power to direct DEP to issue permits for projects that cause environmental harm. If you live in Pennsylvania, make sure to contact your state representative and voice your opposition for this bill!

Another bill moving through the Pennsylvania legislature - Senate Bill 792 - has our full support as it would provide comprehensive licensing, registration and labeling for toxic fertilizers in the state. Overwhelmingly passing in the Senate, this bill addresses concerns of growing stormwater pollution from urban and suburban sectors and aims to reduce the environmental impacts from fertilizers that impair the Chesapeake Bay. This is another important bill to contact your house representative on!

As more environmental and water quality bills move through the Pennsylvania legislature, we’ll keep you updated on their status. To stay up to date on all of Waterkeepers Chesapeake work, sign up for emails and action alerts here.