PA Budget Would Still Derail Oil and Gas Regs, Clean Power Plan

The PA budget framework advanced by the House yesterday still contains language derailing conventional oil and gas drilling regulations pending approval by the Department of Environmental Protection, reports Dave Hess.

Provisions related to giving the General Assembly extra time to review Pennsylvania’s plan for meeting EPA’s Clean Power Climate Rule, killing the conventional oil and gas regulations on the verge of being finalized by DEP, a $12 million Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund were put back into the bill by the House, $22 million for small water and wastewater project funding for the Commonwealth Financing Authority.

Tom Wolf stopped short of saying that he would veto this, which raises the question of whether some polluter grift got horse-traded for Republican budget votes.

To recap, this rule-writing process was started under the Corbett administration, and legislative Republicans voted for it. It’s had a lengthy and thorough public review process, and is very close to becoming the law of the land.

But now it is also very close to getting scratched for no good reason, thanks to some sketchy amendments that randomly turned up over the summer, were briefly removed, and then recently got put back in again.

Your move, Governor.

Posted in Budget, Issues

Will Tom Wolf Veto Fiscal Code Amendments Derailing Oil and Gas Rules?

A quick update from Dave Hess: reported late Thursday Gov. Wolf opposes loading up the Fiscal Code to gut oil and gas regulations or slow implementation of the EPA Clean Power Climate Plan, according to his spokesperson Jeff Sheridan.

“The governor is committed to the Clean Power Plan, which is an important opportunity to reduce emissions and combat climate change, and ensuring proper oversight of the oil and gas industry with the Chapter 78 process,” he added.

A veto of the fiscal code is a possibility, according to the Governor’s Office.

Wolf’s spokesman Jeff Sheridan stops short of saying Wolf will veto the Fiscal Code amendments, so they probably need voters to keep pushing them. This story has kept gaining traction on social media through the weekend, so they’re probably going to have to take a firm position at some point.

Posted in Miscellany

PA GOP Using Budget to Derail Traditional Oil and Gas Regulations

Did some big environmental setbacks just get horse-traded for Republican budget votes?

A Fiscal Code amendment that randomly showed up over the summer, which would effectively derail the Department of Environmental Protection’s ongoing process for writing new traditional oil and gas regulations, has now returned in both the House and Senate versions of the budget, reports Dave Hess.

Other changes would give the state legislature more time to delay the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and cut $15 million from the Growing Greener program.

The Senate amended a series of bills in the agreed-to budget package Wednesday night, one of which would kill the conventional drilling regulations and force DEP to start the process over, reduce Growing Greener watershed restoration and related funding by $15 million next fiscal year and expands the time the General Assembly has to review any plan DEP develops to meet EPA’s Clean Power Climate Rule under Act 75 of 2014.

The budget package moving in the Senate has been agreed to by Senate Republicans and Democrats, House Democrats and Gov. Wolf. The House Republicans are still holding out for their own budget.

This of course has nothing to do with the budget at all, but dirty energy lobbyists see an opportunity to sneak something through while voters are distracted by the big picture fight over the budget.

John Walliser of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council points out in PEC’s letter opposing the bill that this rulemaking process, far from a liberal plot by Tom Wolf, was initiated by Tom Corbett in response to a law passed by the Republican legislature in 2012.

“This proposed rulemaking was developed in response to legislation passed by the General Assembly in 2012 and signed into law by Governor Corbett; rulemaking that has been subject to 12 public hearings, 2 separate public comment periods, and more than a dozen public meetings with the oil & gas technical advisory board.

This legislative amendment has not been afforded proper public consideration. Instead, it has been buried in omnibus legislation that, due to long-overdue resolution of the Commonwealth’s budget, will be virtually impossible to untangle or be vetted on its own merits. There are serious questions as to whether inclusion of this provision in the Fiscal Code violates the single subject rule of the Pennsylvania Constitution; not to mention the Environmental Rights Amendment of Article I, Section 27.”

Given all the oil and gas industry campaign money pouring into the Capitol, opponents of this amendment have their work cut out for them, but it’s nevertheless important to call your House lawmakers about it.

Posted in Miscellany

PA GOP Won’t Disinvite Trump from PA Society Fundraiser

Everybody in the Republican Party is making official statements denouncing Donald Trump for calling for a total ban on Muslim immigration, but the proof is in the pudding.

Tom Fitzgerald reports that Donald Trump is still a welcome guest at the PA Republican Party’s PA Society fundraiser this weekend. Sorry, not sorry:

A Democratic candidate for U.S. House and a liberal activist group said Tuesday Pennsylvania Republicans should dump Donald Trump as the speaker at a party fundraiser after the mogul proposed a “total and complete” ban on Muslims entering the U.S.

The party is standing by its man.

“Donald Trump will be the keynote speaker at our Friday fundraiser in New York,” Pennsylvania GOP spokeswoman Megan Sweeney said.

Daniel Muroff, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah in the Democratic primary in the Second District in Philadelphia, and the group Keystone Progress both issued statements calling on the state GOP to dis-invite Trump, who is scheduled to appear Friday at the party’s annual fundraising luncheon during the Pennsylvania Society festivities in Manhattan.

Posted in Miscellany

PA Budget: House Republicans vs. The World

Via Charles Thompson:

Pennsylvania House Republicans abandoned the fragile state budget “framework” Saturday after members told caucus leaders they could not support the roughly $2 billion in new taxes needed to pay for it.

Republicans said they will start work Sunday on a smaller, $30.3 billion plan, that cuts a projected increase in funding for public schools from $350 million to $150 million, and contains no changes to the state sales or income taxes.

The move was a clear setback for a $30.8 billion deal that legislative leaders and Gov. Tom Wolf have been working on since Nov. 9, but most other parties refused to declare that deal dead last night.

Wolf, as he climbed into his Jeep to leave the Capitol Complex Saturday evening, said he was “still committed to the framework.”

This is not a politically sustainable position. Before, it was relatively easy for anyone not paying too close of attention to believe that all parties were equally to blame for the budget stand-off. Everybody should compromise more!

But the fact that you now have the Senate Republicans and Tom Wolf ready to make a deal sends a strong message that the right wing is to blame for any continued delays. If the House Republicans would just take the same position as the Senate Republicans, we’d have a budget. It’s on them now.

Posted in Budget, Issues, Miscellany

New FAST Act Pilot Could Let PA Collect I-80 Toll Revenue

The new FAST Act transportation funding bill signed by President Obama contains a pilot allowing up to three states to toll their interstates, so it’s time for the Wolf administration to resubmit our request to toll I-80.

From Governing Magazine:

Federal law generally prohibits states from adding tolls to existing interstates. The proposal would extend a pilot program that lets as many as three states toll existing interstates, even though the three states with permission — Missouri, North Carolina and Virginia — have no plans to do so. The agreement, though, would add a three-year deadline for states to use their authority to toll interstates, or else that permission could be given to another state instead.

The prohibition against tolling interstates is dumb. The original infrastructure is paid for, but the need for more maintenance funding will only keep growing, and the amount of money raised by user fees has been shrinking.

Act 89 is going to raise a lot of money from gas taxes, but a lot isn’t the same as enough, and more revenue is needed to bring PA’s infrastructure into a state of good repair. The state’s transit agencies in particular are still just treading water with the new funding, despite real needs and opportunities for expansion, especially in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh where more people have been trading in their cars for walkable central neighborhoods.

Tolling I-80 can bring in another $450 million for transportation. We’ve got a proposal ready to send back to the feds. Let’s not leave that money on the table.


Posted in Miscellany

PA GOP Choosing a Worse Overall State Business Climate Over a Severance Tax on Marcellus Shale Coalition

The latest reports seem to suggest there is once again some fragile agreement on a state budget framework, but in case it isn’t finalized yet, everybody really needs to step back and reflect on how insane the legislative Republicans’ revealed preferences are here.

The national and state Republican Parties talk a lot about the virtues of low taxes for businesses and individuals, and particularly for high income individuals. And they also favor fossil fuel company interests, because those companies provide a huge part of the donor base for Republican political campaigns.

The PA budget impasse creates a situation where these views are in tension, but the choice here should be obvious.

You don’t have to be Arthur Laffer to believe that having the second-highest sales tax in the nation would be bad for the state business climate and jobs.

And yet that is exactly the plan Republicans are supporting, just to keep the Marcellus Shale Coalition–an industry that employs less than 1% of Pennsylvania workers–from paying a severance tax comparable to what these companies are used to paying in every other big natural gas-producing state.

I’m old enough to remember back in 2011 when gas industry executives told Rep. Mike Sturla in testimony that they wouldn’t leave Pennsylvania even if the state’s severance tax was 1% higher than the next highest tax state:

Rep. Michael Sturla of Lancaster County said industry leaders have, during testimony in front of his committee, said they would not leave Pennsylvania even if the state’s fracking tax is 1 percent higher than the highest gas drilling tax in the country.

“Frankly, they have been more forthcoming than some of our politicians who have said (the industry) would leave,” Sturla said. “I don’t think it’s the industry that’s the bad guy. It’s other people who are standing in the way.”

This lobbying push is all a big charade by an industry with plenty of cash to burn on lobbying. When the severance tax eventually passes, they’ll pay it happily. And there’s precious little evidence that they’ll pass the increase on to gas consumers either.

By contrast, some national retailers will probably stay out of Pennsylvania because of the second-highest in the nation sales tax, costing PA residents jobs. This doesn’t even make sense from the perspective of Republican tax politics, let alone the public interest.

How much is lobbying impacting this? The gas industry have given Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati over $500,000, House Speaker Mike Turzai over $275,000, and almost $100,000 to Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman. You can see how much your Rep. got here.

Lots of people are of course interested in this issue because of the implications for education and other services, but it’s even more important that we keep watching the rule-writing process, because that’s where the weak appetite for regulating and taxing the gas industry can cause the most damage to air quality, water, and the climate.

With the gas industry able to get away with so much mischief in plain site during this PA budget season, just think about what they’re getting behind closed doors.

Posted in Elections, Energy, Environment, Issues, State House, State Senate

State Agency-Crippling Bill Heads to a Vote in the Senate Rules Committee Today

When we last left the IRRC bill Republicans cooked up to completely defang Executive branch rule-making, it had passed the House on close to a party-line vote, and has now headed back to the Senate.

Laura Legere at the Post-Gazette brought us up to speed late last week:

A bill passed by a divided Pennsylvania House on Tuesday would give legislative committees new opportunities to intervene as state agencies develop regulations for everything from gas drilling to gambling.

Opponents of the measure, including House Democrats and Gov. Tom Wolf, say it could cause the state’s already complicated rule-making process to grind to a halt.

The chamber passed House Bill 965 with a vote of 113-84 and sent it to the Senate for concurrence. Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill, and one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting it. The Senate passed a companion bill unanimously this spring, but the House version varies slightly.

The issue, for those just tuning in, is that the Independent Regulatory Review Committee already places bipartisan checks and balances on Executive agency rule-making, and there’s already a process for lawmakers to reject any regulations they think are overreaching after IRRC approves them. The point of this bill, which sends proposed agency rules to state legislative committees before ever going to the IRRC, isn’t to promote good-faith review, it’s too empower obstructionists to kill new rules in the crib without even having to vote on them.

HB 965, the House version, is now in the Senate’s Rules Committee being amended for concurrence. We’re hearing the committee will vote on this later today, so right now is a great time to contact these lawmakers and tell them not to pass it out of committee.


Posted in Energy, Environment, Issues, Labor and Unions

#HB965 Update: Tom Wolf Opposes Crippling State Agency Regulatory Authority

A few updates on this turd of a bill since last night.

Not surprisingly, Tom Wolf officially opposes new Executive branch agency regulations disappearing into the legislative purgatory of Republican-controlled committees before going to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

Wolf needs 68 House Democrats to hang together to win a veto override vote, and early signs are encouraging there.

The House version only passed out of the House committee on a party line vote, and House Dems held together yesterday on an amendment vote that failed.

Ben Waxman, press secretary for Senator Vince Hughes, says the House version has enough substantive differences with the Senate version that the bill will need to go back to the Senate if, as is expected, it wins a full vote in the House later today.

When asked how a bill putting Democratic priorities at such a clear disadvantage could possibly have attracted unanimous support from Senate Democrats last spring, Waxman said it wasn’t an oversight. He said the bill did in fact go through the Senate Democrats’ committee review process, there was a discussion in caucus about the bill, and the caucus decided to support it.

“The interpretation we have of this bill is that it’s an institutional question, not a political question,” he said.

Waxman went on to defend the bill on the merits as a non-partisan, small-d democratic change, and declined to speak to the obvious consequences for Democratic policy priorities. Republicans run all the committees, and will continue to do so until Pennsylvania becomes less gerrymandered in some magical future scenario, so progressive regulations would face an impossible uphill climb.

Senator Hughes subsequently retweeted our tweets about this, so maybe he’s had a change of heart.

More updates later after the House vote on the full bill this afternoon.


Posted in Environment, Issues, Labor and Unions

PA Republican Bill Up for a Vote Today Would Gut State Agencies’ Rule-Making Authority

If you’ve been sitting there thinking “I hope the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania never passes any new protections for worker safety, food safety, or air and water quality ever again” have PA Republicans got a bill for you!

Up for a vote in the House as soon as today, HB 965 creates an exciting new process whereby committees in the state legislature can effectively block the Executive branch from passing any new rules indefinitely.

The way it works now, state agencies propose regulations and the state’s bipartisan Independent Regulatory Review Committee conducts a review process, has a public comment period, and then takes an up-or-down vote on whether to approve or disapprove.

After IRRC votes, standing committees of the legislature have the power to do a further review, or disapprove of the rule. In those cases the proposed rule is stayed for 14 days, after which time it can be brought to a full vote of the legislature.

The way this would play out under HB 965 (and the companion bill SB 562 which was already passed unanimously by the state Senate this Spring because apparently zero Democrats read the bill) the IRRC would probably never even get a vote on the proposed rules because the committee review would kick in before the IRRC vote. Oh, and the lawmakers on those committees could redo the review process repeatedly as many times as they want, trapping any new regulations in purgatory.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that a legislative committee could postpone a vote by IRRC forever under this process, effectively blocking the Executive branch from passing any new rules. That’s great if you are a natural gas baron or an unscrupulous employer looking to fend off any new public interest regulations, but terrible if you are a mere resident of this Commonwealth.

Look at our Republican state legislature. Do you think any new worker protections or environmental protections would ever make it to the IRRC with the tea people controlling the committees? There’s no way. State agencies would be completely toothless and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission robbed of its independent oversight role.

The worst part is that this bill completely snuck up on us, with wind of this vote spreading only as recently as Thursday night. With all eyes on the budget, Republicans were betting this bill would pass without anyone noticing, and with the Senate vote in their pocket, that is terrifyingly close to becoming our reality.

Your state lawmakers need to hear from you right now and they need to know someone is watching. Please email this news to your networks and make sure activists in your area are aware that this is going down today!

Posted in Environment, Health, Issues, Labor and Unions