Group Says PA Legislature Votes Harm Air and Water

  • A riparian buffer zone. Photo: Chester County Planning Commission.

October 17, 2014
Additional reporting by Julie Grant

Environmentalists in Pennsylvania aren't pleased with the end of the state legislative session. Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, also known as PennFuture, says votes this week would harm the state's ability to comply with President Obama's Clean Power Plan, and would undermine cleanup of the state's waterways.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Approve Process for Climate Action

Once the federal climate rules are finalized next year, Pennsylvania will be required to submit a plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on how it will comply with the rules.

State legislators gave themselves power over the Department of Environmental Protection, to decide how to meet the EPA rules. The Senate approved the measure 31 to 17.

Democratic Representative Pam Snyder sponsored the bill in the House.

"This is to ensure that everybody who represents their districts has a voice and a say in this process," she says. "Because that's what we're elected to do. I have watched my coal-fired power plants be closed, I have watched people lose their jobs, I have watched electricity rates skyrocket, I have watched electric reliability be in jeopardy." 

Opponents of the bill say it puts politicians' concerns above scientists'. PennFuture President Cindy Dunn says it could delay the state's ability to submit a plan.

"It inappropriately inserts the Senate and the House into a process where the Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania is required to submit a plan. It's really forcing them to cede their power and responsiblity to the citizens to meet the EPA rule."

Homeowner Rights vs. Water Protection

The legislature also approved changes to Pennsylvania's "Clean Streams Law." By a Senate vote of 27 to 22, the amendment eliminates 150-foot buffer zones required between new developments and high quality waterways.

Rows of trees and shrubs can help keep pollution from washing off buildings and pavement into streams and rivers. Developers have said waterfront property is valuable, and 150 feet can be too much to ask.

Representative Marcia Hahn, a Republican from Northhampton County, says homeowners still need to protect waterways, but the bill gives them a choice on where and how to do it.

"DEP has to approve it. When it gets down to it, that might be the only option the landowner has, they may not be able to do any of the other best management practices, but at least it’s giving them an option," Hahn says. "So if they can do a riparian buffer on the same waterway, to keep the water the way it is, and keep it clean, then they have that option.”

Environmentalists call it the subdivision flooding bill. PennFuture's Dunn says it ignores the issues of stormwater runoff and flooding.

"This is unfortunately really reversing a good practice we had in Pennsylvania for years, preserving these buffers. And it's really kowtowing to the developers and the home builders who really just want the ability to build closer and closer to the stream."