A Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania is circulating a memo seeking co-sponsors for a bill that would strengthen the independence of the state's Environmental Quality Board (EQB) by shaking-up its membership and eliminating the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) secretary's chairmanship.
Rep. Cris Dush, of Indiana and Jefferson counties, wants to diminish the executive branch's influence over the 20-member EQB, which reviews and adopts regulations proposed by the DEP, such as a controversial overhaul of environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry that the board approved earlier this year (see Shale Daily, Jan. 29).
Currently, DEP Secretary John Quigley, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf last year (see Shale Daily, Jan. 14, 2015), serves as chairman of the EQB. Its members also include 11 people from executive-level departments, five from the Citizens Advisory Council and four members from the legislature.
"This runs counter to the board's role as an independent check on the power of the DEP," Dush said in the memo of Quigley's role as chairman. "My legislation restores the balance by removing the secretary from the EQB and making the chair of the board an elected position from among the members."
Dush's legislation would also make the majority and minority chairs of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committees permanent members, while the four legislative members would be replaced by members of the public. The bill would also increase the EQB's size to 23 members.
The memo came the same week as the House energy committee approved a resolution to prevent a package of environmental regulations for the oil and gas industry from being implemented (see Shale Daily, May 5). The regulations, which took more than four years to draft, were tightened by Quigley (see Shale Daily, March 9, 2015). DEP sent them to the EQB earlier this year, which approved them. The state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission also approved the package, but it could be voted down by the legislature after the resolution.
The regulations have met opposition at nearly every step of the way. The package includes separate standards for the conventional and unconventional industries. Among other things, the new rules would reduce impacts on public resources, such as schools and parks, help prevent spills, strengthen waste management and require stronger well site restoration (see Shale Daily, Jan. 6). While there are separate rules for both industries, the regulations would require both to adhere to some of the same regulations.
Legacy producers have filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the package, accusing the DEP of writing ambiguous regulations for both industries and claiming it ignored a law passed in 2014 to adopt separate regulations (see Shale Daily, April 18).
Lawmakers have questioned the regulatory process and said it could cost conventional producers their businesses if the rules are approved (see Shale Daily, April 13). The DEP has continued to maintain that the process was fair and transparent.
The House is scheduled for votes on May 16, while the Senate returned to session on Monday. If lawmakers do vote against the new rules, Gov. Wolf could veto the move.