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Wolf, General Assembly Reach Agreements on Oil and Gas Regulations, Clean Power Plan Reviews

The Governor has signed three bills relating to the state’s oil and gas industries after weeks of negotiations with the House and Senate.  These include SB 279, creating a Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Advisory Committee and mandating revision of proposed conventional oil and gas drilling regulations, now Act 52; SB 1195, which establishes a role for the General Assembly in reviewing the states proposal for compliance with the Clean Power Plan relating to greenhouse gas emissions, now Act 57; and HB 57, which is intended to enhance natural gas competition in the Commonwealth, now Act 47.

The House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees had asked the Independent Regulatory Review Commission to reject regulations governing both conventional and unconventional drilling for oil and gas in Pennsylvania, and after the IRRC approved the regulations, took action to invalidate them entirely and require a restart of the rulemaking process.  When it became clear that the votes were available to pass those bills, the House, Senate and Governor’s Office began negotiations which resulted in language on another piece of legislation which negated the conventional drilling regs. 

The issue had been simmering for two years – the 2014 Fiscal Code legislation instructed DEP to do a separate set of regulations for each type of drilling, but the DEP failed to do that, and the industry took DEP to court.  After weeks of negotiations, the General Assembly inserted language in a bill to create a Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Advisory Committee that requires DEP to start the process over for conventional wells.

At the same time, the Senate and House had moved forward with legislation that would insert the General Assembly into the review process for the state’s plan for compliance with requirements of EPA for the Clean Power Plan.  As part of the negotiations, an agreement was reached to

The Senate amended and passed (41-9) legislation to reflect an agreement reached between the General Assembly and Wolf Administration on proposed federal Clean Power Plan regulations (Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act.)  Under the bill, the Administration would have to submit state plans to comply with federal Clean Power Plan rules to the General Assembly 100 days before being submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency, and both chambers each chamber are required to vote on a transmitted plan within 20 legislative days after being placed on the calendar.  The bill also mandates the Administration wait until after the Supreme Court stay on the Clean Power Plan expires. 

Sen. Don White, sponsor of SB 1195, explained, “It is essential that the Legislature be proactive in protecting our industries. The state regulations to comply with this federal edict could have a devastating impact on those industries.”

The Wolf administration, while still working on the state plan, has now said it will not submit a plan until the court challenge is resolved. The rules, as well as the Legislature’s role in their potential submission to the federal government, had been a bone of contention between all four caucuses and the administration during the past year.