The state Senate on Thursday passed the fiscal code with some new language that environmentalists say not only guts regulations governing the oil and gas industry, but also subsidizes it.
The fiscal code, which tells lawmakers how to spend money in the general fund, takes $12 million from the Alternative Energy Investment Act and puts it into a new Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund, delays implementation of the federal Clean Power Plan and handcuffs new regulations on oil and gas operators.
State environmental regulators have been working for three years to modernize regulations governing drilling and natural gas production, but the fiscal code could wreck that progress and force them to start over, environmentalists say.
After the Senate passed the fiscal code 48-2, a dozen environmental groups on Thursday afternoon issued a joint statement calling the move “state government at its least transparent and most hostile to public health, clean air and pure water.”
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the industry’s largest trade group, applauded the Senate for its bipartisan support.
“Access to affordable, clean burning natural gas is something all Pennsylvanians should rally behind. The $12 million for the new Natural Gas Infrastructure Development Fund will help benefit Pennsylvania consumers by providing them access to this abundant resource,” coalition spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright said in an email.
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Shale drillers benefit from the latest Senate move, which is another example of the industry’s enormous power over the General Assembly, said Larry Schweiger, CEO of environmental group PennFuture.
Other environmentalists also took issue with the amended fiscal code.
“Using the fiscal code in this way lacks transparency, violates the public’s trust, and runs counter to the Pennsylvania Constitution,” Joanne Kilgour, state director of the Sierra Club said in news release.
The new fiscal code ignores the tens of thousands of state residents who attended hearings on climate and gas drilling regulations, according to Adam Garber, field director for PennEnvironment.
“The General Assembly shouldn’t undermine that robust democratic process through secret, backdoor amendments in the state budget,” he said in a release.
Environmentalists’ opposition to the latest fiscal code is just their standard rhetoric, according to Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.
“If the existing laws are upheld, there’s no need to update them,” she said.
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The Senate passed everything but a tax plan and is adjourned until Monday. The fiscal code, also known as House Bill 1327, now moves to the House for consideration.
The House is back in session Saturday and is expected to work through Tuesday, according to House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin.
The federal government gave an extension to implement the Clean Power Plan if an agreement wasn’t reached, and the fiscal code just codifies that, he said.
The Senate amended the bill since the House last passed it in June.
“We’re going to be reviewing it, maybe tweaking it,” Miskin said.
Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat who represents Delaware and Montgomery counties, likely won’t be voting for it.
He said the fiscal code passed by the Senate is “unconstitutional and harmful to the environment.”
It’s unconstitutional because it violates provisions of the state constitution that require a bill be confined to a single subject, he said in a news release.
The latest fiscal code is a backdoor effort by the coal industry, drillers and their allies in the Senate to stop regulations, which are much more protective of public health, said Vitali, Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
Meanwhile, environmentalists are urging Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf to “shut it down.”
“We’re urging the governor to veto this thing. While people are meeting in Paris about how we’re heading for an overheated planet — and we’re probably hitting heat records this weekend — this (fiscal code) shuts down the governor’s ability to reduce carbon pollution,” Schweiger said, referring to the climate summit in France.
Whether Wolf will veto the fiscal code is unclear.
“Governor Wolf opposes loading up the fiscal code to gut oil and gas regulations or slow implementation of the Clean Power Plan,” said Wolf spokesman 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.
This article was written by Candy Woodall from The Patriot-News and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.