PEC Letter to PA Senate in Opposition to HB1565

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Legislation would eliminate important buffer requirement.
September 30, 2014

PEC today sent the following communication to the PA Senate.

September 30, 2014

To: Members of the PA Senate
From: John Walliser, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
RE: Opposition to House Bill 1565 (P.N. 4116)

Dear Senators:

On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), I am writing to express our opposition to House Bill 1565 (P.N. 4116). This legislation would eliminate the existing requirement of a riparian buffer or forested riparian buffer for new development requiring a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permit in a High Quality or Exceptional Value watershed.

It is important to note that the existing buffer requirement is only triggered by the need for an NPDES permit in those limited watersheds, and therefore does not apply to existing landowners and their current land use. Further, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (Department) regulations (25 Pa Code Section 102.14) already provide a long list of exceptions to the buffer requirement. This requirement can also be exempted through a waiver from the Department. In her January 29, 2014 testimony before the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, Deputy Secretary for Water Management Kelly Heffner could not recall a single instance where such a waiver was denied.

In other words, existing law already provides ample flexibility. Passage of this legislation could in fact invite new federal review of permitting activities in Pennsylvania; particularly in the Susquehanna / Chesapeake Bay watershed where targeted pollution reduction requirements and strategies are already in play.

Riparian buffers prevent property damage and the expense of flooding, an issue that has been a priority for the General Assembly over the past several years. Buffers also dramatically reduce stormwater management costs; help keep streams free of sediment; reduce the cost of treating water for potable uses; and in general, promote and sustain healthier communities.

House Bill 1565 is unnecessary and could result in undesired consequences for Pennsylvania. For additional perspective, please see this note from David Hess, former Secretary of the Department. 

We strongly urge you to oppose this bill. Thank you for your consideration.