State Environmental Issues

On January 5, 2018, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC” or “Commission”) reserved a public docket to review the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the federal tax reform bill that was signed into law on December 22, 2017, on utilities and companies under the PUC’s jurisdiction.  The PUC has not issued a tentative order or any further guidance or details regarding the scope and objectives of the proceeding.

The Tax Reform Act of 2017 lowers corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%.  Because income taxes are a significant component of a public utility’s revenue requirements, the Commission will be investigating potential means by which to provide the benefits of the Tax Reform Act of 2017 to customers.  Regulators and consumer advocates in other states, including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Michigan, and Montana, have already begun taking steps to investigate the impact of the Tax Reform Act of 2017, including potential refunds or rate reductions for consumers.

We will provide additional information through this blog once the PUC issues more information regarding its proceeding.

 

Municipalities throughout Pennsylvania are in the process of implementing local stormwater ordinances and fees that will likely impact land development.  Recent changes to federal and state laws have forced municipalities to seek new funding sources, regulate businesses that have large areas of solid pavement and roofing (“impervious” areas), and limit stormwater impacts that occur from land development.  Businesses and developers should remain on the lookout for changes to local laws that will regulate stormwater, limit traditional land development, create quasi-governmental stormwater agencies (known as authorities), and impose stormwater fees.  Stakeholders should take advantage of opportunities to participate to limit any adverse impacts from these local government initiatives on their operations.  This article focuses specifically on Pennsylvania, but similar changes may be happening in municipalities throughout the country that are grappling with stormwater issues.

Businesses and land development within the borders of a regulated municipal separate storm sewer system (a system that has separate pipes to convey stormwater, known as an “MS4”) may be affected the most by local stormwater regulation, whether or not operations involve discharges into storm sewer pipes.  Municipalities regulated as MS4s have independent legal obligations related to stormwater management.  These obligations are implemented through their MS4 permits with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”).   An MS4’s compliance depends on land uses and practices of businesses within its borders.  One potential component of an MS4’s compliance is regulation of businesses and land development through ordinances.  For example, DEP requires minimum standards for stormwater controls in local ordinances and, to that end, has issued a model stormwater ordinance that MS4s are expected to implement, in some form, by September 30, 2022.  The permitting requirements are even more severe if the MS4 is within the Chesapeake Bay watershed or within an identified “impaired” watershed.

A list of the hundreds of regulated MS4s, by county, and their regulatory status is available on DEP’s website.  Businesses and developers within these listed municipalities, in particular, should be attentive to changes at the local level and take advantage of their opportunities to shape local laws to accommodate their current and future operations.  Below are some key points to consider.

Stormwater Authorities and Fees
Municipalities may now create stormwater authorities, which are separate local entities that have defined responsibilities such as stormwater planning, management, and implementation.  By law, stormwater authorities may generally impose “reasonable and uniform” rates.  A key point of contention at the local level will undoubtedly be whether rates imposed are “reasonable and uniform” based on the characteristics of the properties that are subject to the fees.

Fee structures vary widely from municipality to municipality.  The most simple is flat per-parcel fee. Another simple approach is the equivalent hydraulic area (EHA) approach, which features separate per-square footage rates for impervious area surfaces (parking lots and other paved surfaces) and pervious area surfaces (lawns, gardens, green rooftops).  Additionally, many municipalities may impose separate fees for non-residential and residential parcels, with residential properties typically charged a flat-fee, while non-residential properties pay more targeted fees designed to reflect each parcel’s total impervious area, such as a per-EHA rate. Typically, non-residential properties are subject to a broader range of fees based on higher variance in impervious surface areas among commercial and industrial parcels.  For example, a used car lot would likely pay more in stormwater fees than a hotel because used car lots cover a large swath of impervious pavement, while hotels would generally have a relatively smaller footprint of impervious area.

No matter how the municipality or authority structures its fees, the revenue generated from the fees may be used by MS4s to implement “best management practices” (“BMPs”) that control and reduce the discharge of stormwater, including sediment contributions (or “loadings”) to surface waters (sediment, or soil particles, is considered a pollutant).  BMPs can range from something as simple as more-frequent street cleaning, to something as burdensome as construction of retention basins and infiltration techniques.

Fee structures can (and should) include credit programs that reduce or eliminate fees for property owners who manage stormwater, such as by implementing their own BMPs.  A properly structured credit program will allow property owners to reduce the billed stormwater fees commensurate with reductions in stormwater runoff from the property due to implementation of BMPs.  Businesses should ensure that credit programs are considered and look for opportunities to implement BMPs that can result in credits and long-term cost savings.  Legal representation may be helpful to assist with proactive review of proposed stormwater programs in order to encourage development of fair and flexible stormwater fee structures.

Businesses and Development in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed
Businesses within the Chesapeake Bay watershed may be most affected by local regulation as MS4s attempt to meet more-stringent permit requirements in this region.  The Chesapeake Bay is considered “impaired” for sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous.  Therefore, federal and state regulation have focused on these three pollutants and, in urban or developed areas, particularly sediment.  DEP permitting now requires MS4s in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to reduce sediment loadings to surface waters over the next several years and demonstrate those reductions (this is a new requirement for MS4 programs in Pennsylvania).  In turn, this means businesses and land development within the Chesapeake Bay watershed will be in the crosshairs for more local regulation through BMPs and fees.  Under DEP’s program, the amount of stormwater (or “volume”) is equivalent to “sediment” because higher volume results in stream scouring and stream bank erosion.  Businesses and developers may be forced to implement BMPs to reduce volumes discharged from properties where stormwater management was approved years or even decades ago.

Businesses and Development in Other “Impaired” Watersheds
Even beyond the Chesapeake Bay watershed, businesses and development within other, smaller watersheds throughout Pennsylvania that are considered “impaired” may be subject to additional local scrutiny for stormwater management.  MS4s are subject to additional permitting requirements similar to those for the Chesapeake Bay if they are located within certain smaller watersheds that are “impaired” for specific pollutants, including not only sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorous, but also pathogens, metals or acidity from abandoned mine drainage, and certain priority pollutants like polychlorinated biphenyls (“PCBs”) and pesticides.  In turn, this means the potential for more local regulation in MS4 municipalities that face these issues beyond the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Opportunities to Participate and Cooperate
When municipalities propose ordinances, fees, BMPs, and other measures to regulate stormwater, stakeholders should take advantage of opportunities to be in the conversation.  Early participation in the development of fee structures, in particular, can ensure that assessments are fair, reasonable, and uniform and include credit programs for implementing desired controls, preventing the need for litigation later (which has been common for stormwater fees throughout the country).  This includes having you, legal counsel, or other representatives attend public meetings, file written comments, and organize businesses in similar situations to oppose any inequitable treatment.

In addition, MS4 municipalities may look to private landowners and businesses to help them implement BMPs on private property.  This can involve questions related to funding, design and construction, and long-term operation and maintenance (“O&M”) agreements to ensure ongoing effectiveness of BMPs.  It may also involve restrictions on property, such as through deed covenants or use restrictions.  The opportunity to work collaboratively with a municipality on such projects can be beneficial for stakeholders and help frame the outcome, resulting in a win-win if done properly.  These opportunities may also expand beyond the borders of a municipality and involve cooperation with regional and county-wide initiatives (e.g., in York County).

Conclusion
Businesses and developers must remain vigilant in tracking proposed local regulation of stormwater. Early participation by stakeholders or their representatives can reduce the regulatory burdens, present a positive community image, and result in savings in the long run.

Please look for this article in the upcoming January/February 2018 issue of Metropolitan Corporate Counsel!

After December 7, 2017, new Pennsylvania land development projects that disturb in total over an acre of land will require an individual National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES’) permit.  Although the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PaDEP”) missed the window to timely reauthorize General Permit PAG-02, it has administratively extended existing issued permits which have not expired and do not expire in the interim, until December 7, 2018.  PaDEP has also stated that it intends to reissue a final PAG-02 well before December 8, 2018, most likely by the spring of 2018.

Furthermore, by administratively extending the existing PAG-02, PaDEP enables any previously issued PAG-02 permit that will expire or require amendment after December 7, 2017, to be renewed or amended by Conservation Districts, provided the coverage area is not expanded and the renewal/amendment is applied for on or before December 7, 2017.  We caution, however, that only timely application for renewal will extend your existing PAG-02 beyond its expiration.

After December 7, 2017 (until PaDEP finalizes the PAG-02 reissue), all new or amended acre-plus construction activity stormwater permits must be individual NPDES permits. While individual permits are typically reviewed and issued by PaDEP, not Conservation Districts, PaDEP has indicated that if your project would have qualified for the PAG-02, you may submit the same information and fees and follow the same instructions for an individual permit application as you would have for a PAG-02 NOI (Form 3150-PM-BWEW0035), by checking the box for the “Individual” Permit Type. Similarly, if your NOI is pending and will not be issued by December 7, 2017, you should submit Form 3150-PM-BWEW0035, with the box for the “Individual” Permit Type checked.  Conservation Districts will conduct the entire review, with consultation with PaDEP as necessary, and will issue the individual permit.

However, if you do not anticipate beginning construction prior to the date PaDEP finalizes the PAG-02 reissue, you may submit your PAG-02 to your Conservation District and request that a review be conducted, but final action will be delayed until PaDEP completes the reissue.

Application for an individual permit would typically be published for comment (not simply the issuance). The permit itself may contain additional terms and conditions, and the full review would be performed by PaDEP. However, during this interim period, PaDEP has indicated that for new projects that would normally qualify for PAG-02 coverage, conservation districts will conduct the entire review (with consultation with PaDEP as necessary) and issue the permit. It further provides that the applicant may submit the same information and fees for an individual permit application as it would for a PAG-02 Notice of Intent, but make sure to check the box for “Individual” for Permit Type and follow the applicable instructions as if the applicant was submitting a PAG-02 NOI. Typically individual permits are reserved for projects in special protection waters and projects within an impaired watershed.

PaDEP has established a webpage for updated information on this “Construction Stormwater” Issue.  It may be accessed here.

If you have questions about construction stormwater permits in general or your project in particular, please contact either Scott A. Gould (717.237. 5304, sgould@mcneeslaw.com) or Steve Matzura (717.237.5276, smatzura@mcneeslaw.com).

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (“SRBC”) approved a final rulemaking at its business meeting on June 16, 2017, that will regulate “grandfathered” water withdrawals and consumptive uses as we explained in our analysis of the proposal last Fall.  This new regulation will be effective January 2018.  While the SRBC revised the proposed rule in response to public comments, the thrust of the rule will remain the same:  grandfathered withdrawals and uses will be required to register with the SRBC and to be metered.  The registration requirements for grandfathered withdrawals and uses will result in closer agency scrutiny.  They could cause loss of grandfathered status, triggering full SRBC review and approval for failure to timely register or increases in quantities withdrawn or used.

Entities with grandfathered sources and uses should carefully analyze this final rulemaking and contact McNees for additional information.

The new regulation is important for currently regulated and future projects.  There are changes to general application provisions and procedures that will be effective sooner than the grandfathering provisions (upon the rulemaking’s publication in the Federal Register) and could more broadly impact projects.

Other aspects of the proposed rulemaking last Fall, which would have imposed mitigation requirements for consumptive uses beyond the typical payment of a consumptive use mitigation fee, were abandoned in the final rule.  The SRBC removed proposed provisions relating to mitigation plans from the final regulation, including provisions on “water critical areas.”  The SRBC also put its draft Consumptive Use Mitigation Policy on hold, indicating that it will further consider the public comments on these issues and go back to the drawing board in the future.

We will know more about the final rulemaking when the SRBC posts the text and a comment/response document on its website in the coming weeks.  Until the grandfathering rule becomes effective in January 2018, the SRBC will be working on the forms and additional guidance for registration.  Once the grandfathering rule is effective, registrations can be made for six months without any application fee.

McNees contacts who can provide assistance include:

 

On May 17, 2017, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (“EQB”) greenlighted a proposal that would substantially increase fees for public water suppliers regulated by the Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”).  In addition to seeking the fee hike, the proposal would amend other regulations under the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act (“SDWA”), with some changes being even more stringent than federal standards.  The proposal now will be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin followed by a public comment period of at least 30 days.

Stakeholders should carefully review the proposal and consider submitting comments, including all community water systems, noncommunity water systems, and bottled, vended, retail, and bulk water suppliers.  Those affected may include municipalities with water supply systems and businesses that supply water to the public or their own employees.

Fee Increase

The SDWA allows the EQB to establish fees for permit applications and certain services, as long as those fees bear a reasonable relationship to the actual cost of providing a service.  The proposal would amend the SDWA regulations by removing the current fee provisions and adding a new subchapter relating specifically to fees for each public water system.  PADEP has explained that the purpose of the fees is to increase the agency workforce tasked with inspecting public water systems, which would occur over the next few years.  When coupled with other costs of maintaining a reliable supply of water through permitting and technical requirements, such as those imposed by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (“SRBC”), the financial impact on suppliers may be significant.

The proposed annual fees are generally broken down by type of water system and population served.  For community water systems, the proposed fees range from $250 to $40,000 depending on the population served.  The high end for noncommunity systems and vended, retail, and bulk water suppliers is $1,000, while the fee for bottled water systems is $2,500.  Public water suppliers will also be subject to additional fees for permit and technical reviews.  For example, application fees for construction or modifications would increase from the general $750 charge currently, to upwards of $10,000 under the proposal, again depending on system type and population served.

Other Amendments

Several other amendments have been proposed to keep pace with federal standards and, in some instances, go beyond federal standards.  Some of the regulatory proposals that are more stringent than federal requirements include:

  • Amended turbidity and filtration requirements to prevent turbidity spikes and pathogens.
  • System resiliency requirements for back-up power to ensure a continuous supply of water is delivered.
  • Clarifications to monitoring requirements for back-up sources and comprehensive monitoring plan requirements to ensure that all permitted sources are subject to routine compliance monitoring.
  • Requirements for responding to significant deficiencies through a protocol for notification and corrective action.

Public water suppliers should determine whether these and other provisions may apply to their systems and, if so, consider the potential impact.  McNees contacts that can provide assistance include:

We periodically report on matters that impact the costs large volume commercial, industrial and institutional customers pay for water/wastewater/stormwater service.  Below is information pertaining to a York Water Company matter before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC” or “Commission”).

At the March 2, 2017, Public Meeting, the PUC voted to approve York Water Company’s (“York Water” or “Company”) plan for immediate replacement of both company and customer-owned lead service lines.  This permits York Water to replace customer-owned lead lines at its initial expense, and then recover the costs as a regulatory asset in the Company’s next rate case.

York Water’s most recent drinking water results exceeded the lead action level established by Pennsylvania regulations.  As a consequence, the Company became subject to a Consent Order with PaDEP that required specific action to reduce lead levels at customer taps.  Pursuant to the Consent Order, York Water proposed a two-phase plan to replace both company and customer-owned lead service lines.

The Commission granted the Company’s two-phase plan, permitting York Water to bear the costs of replacing customer-owned lead services lines, and to begin line replacement work immediately, consistent with the Consent Order.

Phase I involves replacement of customer-owned lead service lines discovered concurrently with York Water’s planned replacement of approximately 1,660 lead company-owned service lines in certain portions of the water system.  The estimated cost of replacing company-owned lead service lines is $2 million.  After replacement, the customer will continue to own the service line and be responsible for maintenance and repair.

Phase II involves annual replacement of 400 lead customer-owned service lines whenever they are discovered, over a period of nine years.  Under this phase, York Water would offer payment towards the replacement cost of the customer-owned lead service line.  As with Phase I, the customer will continue to be responsible for maintaining and repairing the service line after replacement.  In the event the number of Phase II replacements exceed those authorized, York Water must process them on a first-come, first-served basis.  However, if a water test exceeds 15 pbb of lead, then the Company may prioritize such replacement.

As to cost, York Water must make a payment towards the replacement cost of the lead customer-owned service line up to the Company’s average contracted cost.  For 2017, the average contracted cost is $1,150/service line replacement <10 feet and $1,250/service line replacement >10 feet.  Customers must pay any difference as a lump sum, or as an amount added to their bill, to be paid within one year.  The Company agrees not to charge interest on any payment period for the difference, other than late payment interest.  If the Company is unable to collect the difference from a customer, and the difference is written off as uncollectible, York Water will be permitted to include  uncollected amounts in the regulatory asset account.

The Company will offer a sliding-scale reimbursement to customers that have already replaced lead service lines within the past four years.  As such, a customer who replaced a line within one year may recoup 80% of the cost of replacement from the Company.  As the replacement grows older, reimbursement is less.

York Water must amortize amounts booked to the regulatory asset account in a base rate proceeding over a reasonable period (<6 years).  Amortization will begin on the effective date of new rates in a base rate proceeding.  York Water will reconcile amounts amortized to amounts incurred, and the difference must continue to be amortized in subsequent base rate proceedings.  The allocation among customer classes of the recovery of amortized costs will be determined in a base rate proceeding.

In closing remarks, Commissioner Powelson stated: “The importance of ensuring safe drinking water for all Pennsylvanians cannot be overstated.  However, in this post-Flint, Michigan world, it is not something we can take for granted.  I commend York Water for recognizing this, for taking the issue seriously, and for acting quickly to resolve it.  I encourage other utilities to do the same….”

However, it appears the PUC actions have not (yet) addressed the cost consequences on all ratepayers for lead-line replacement.  No legitimate reason exists for this cost to be passed on to large commercial or industrial customers; why this unvarnished fact was not now determined by this Commission is unclear, but suggests some contemplate these costs to be recovered volumetrically (as in the DSIC or CSIC) in which large commercial and industrial customers will shoulder most of the cost responsibility.

At McNees, Wallace, and Nurick, LLC, we often write of current or emerging issues that may have significant cost implications for large commercial, industrial and institutional end users in Pennsylvania.  We also closely monitor newly proposed legislation or regulation that may affect service rates, terms and use conditions.

For example, in 2016, we closely tracked HB 2114 introduced by Representative Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster).  It was captioned as follows: “Providing for registration of extraordinary nonagriculture and nonmunicipal water users; imposing a water resource fee; establishing the Water Use Fund; and providing for submission of a question to the electorate authorizing incurring of indebtedness for water-related environmental initiatives.”

This Bill defines “extraordinary water user” as “a person that withdraws more than 10,000 gallons of water a day from the waters of this Commonwealth for the purpose of for-profit business.”  In addition to a rather rigorous filing requirement, this Bill proposed a fee of $0.001 per gallon for water consumption greater than 10,000 gallons/day.”  In other words, this proposed legislation seeks to foist an additional $110,000/year on a large commercial/industrial customer using 10,000,000 gallons/month.  No mention is made in the Bill that some large volumes users (within the Susquehanna River Basin) have been paying a similar fee for some time. (See our earlier Blog articles regarding this issue.)

In 2016, this bill stalled in Committee; as such, by the end of the session, we believed the matter had been put downWe learned recently that plans exist for this same bill to be re-introduced later in 2017.  This is an important issue for large volume commercial and industrial users all of whom likely use far more than 10,000 gallons/day.

Recently, we learned that this bill is slated to be introduced in the second quarter of 2017 and may also include additional cost factors to be introduced in the upcoming Chesapeake Bay Commission meeting.  That meeting is currently slated for March 4 and 5, 2017, in Washington, DC.  Bill proponents are hoping to incorporate additional initiatives into what will be more expansive and far-reaching legislation.

This is yet one more example of the significantly increasing prices paid for provision of water and wastewater services, as they pertain to industrial, large commercial and institutional end-users.  This trend is likely, absent more vocal opposition from all affected end users, to continue in 2017 and beyond.

The Pennsylvania Statewide Water Users group is organizing an initiative to raise the awareness of lawmakers as to the potential impact of such legislation, and to coalesce if necessary, a group of impacted large volume users to provide testimony in opposition to such a significant cost increase.  If you would like more information, or if you have questions, please contact Jim Dougherty at 717.237.5249 or jdougherty@mcneeslaw.com.

A recent decision by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (“PUC” or “Commission”) confirms that Pennsylvania public utilities with combined sewer systems (i.e., systems that collect both sewage and stormwater) may incorporate stormwater charges in their service charges.  While some public utilities have already been incorporating stormwater collection charges in their sewage rates, not all utilities have carried forth this practice.  As a result, this decision could increase sewage rates for some large commercial and industrial customers experiencing significant stormwater flows.

*          *          *

On March 30, 2016, the Pennsylvania American Water Company (“PAWC”) and the Sewer Authority of the City of Scranton (“SSA”) filed an Application with the PUC to permit PAWC to purchase the SSA’s combined sewer system.  As indicated above, combined sewer systems collect sewage and stormwater, so the PUC’s disposition of this Application would clarify the ability of a Pennsylvania public utility to include stormwater charges in its wastewater service rates.  Although Administrative Law Judges David A. Salapa and Steven K. Haas recommended that the PUC reject the proposed Application, the PUC approved it on October 19, 2016.

As a result of the PUC’s approval, statutory enabling legislation was required.  Senate Bill No. 881 was revived and amended to make necessary changes to the Public Utility Code.  Specifically, the Bill amends the Public Utility Code to change the reference of “sewer” to “wastewater,” and expanded the definition of wastewater to include certain “stormwater.”  This bill passed both chambers [October 26 (Senate) and October 27 (House)] and was signed by Governor Wolf.

The Bill provides as follows:

Wastewater.  Any used water and water-carried solids collected or conveyed by a sewer, including:

(1)  Sewage, as defined in Section 2 of the act of January 24, 1966 (1965 P.L. 1535, No. 537), known as the Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act.

(2)  Industrial waste originating from an establishment.  For the purposes of this paragraph, the terms “industrial waste” and “establishment” shall be as defined in Section 1 of the Act of June 22, 1937 (P.L. 1987, No. 394), known as the Clean Streams Law.

(3)   Infiltration or inflow into sewers.

(4)   Other water containing solids or pollutants.

(5)  Storm water which is or will become mixed with waters described under paragraph (1), (2), (3) or (4) within a combined sewer system.

The term does not include storm water collected in a Municipal Separate Storm Sewer, as that term is defined by 40 CFR 122.26(b)(8) (Relating to storm water discharges (applicable to state NPDES programs, see § 123.25)), that does not flow into a combined sewer system.

This legislation, now codified as PA Act 154, allows Pennsylvania utilities providing wastewater service to include, in certain cases (i.e., combined sewer systems), stormwater charges into rates.  While some Pennsylvania municipal wastewater service providers (e.g., Philadelphia Water Department) have been including stormwater charges in wastewater rates for some time, it will be much more commonplace with PUC-regulated service providers with this new legislation.

On September 21, 2016, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (“SRBC”) published a proposed rule that would expand the scope of its current authority over projects that withdraw and use water in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and New York.  The proposal would amend application requirements and SRBC’s review standards for projects, as well as add an entire subpart to its regulations for registration and reporting of “grandfathered” projects (which previously were not regulated).   Water users should expect additional regulation and scrutiny of all projects that involve withdrawals of surface water or groundwater and/or consumptive uses exceeding SRBC thresholds, whether they are new, existing, or (now) grandfathered projects.

Grandfathered Projects.  The most significant proposal is regulation of “grandfathered” projects, which involve water withdrawals or consumptive uses that began before specified dates in the regulations and did not previously require SRBC approval.  SRBC has estimated that there are some-760 grandfathered projects, many of which are not tracked by SRBC or member states, that account for the same amount of water use as all existing regulated consumptive uses in the Basin.  Therefore, SRBC has proposed a mandatory registration-and-reporting program for grandfathered withdrawals and uses, which includes a one-time registration and periodic reporting of withdrawals and uses, along with associated fees.  As support for this rule, SRBC cited to its responsibility to wisely manage water resources in the Basin and the corresponding need to close this “knowledge gap” by comprehensively tracking water usage.

In attempting to close this gap, SRBC has claimed that the registration requirements will not open the door to review-and-approval requirements for grandfathered projects.  In some respects, the registration requirements may be similar to those imposed by the states.  However, this may be only the first step for additional regulation of grandfathered projects, particularly once SRBC gathers and analyzes the registration data.  Indeed, the proposal potentially opens a floodgate of additional regulation. Failure to register within two years of the effective date would render a grandfathered project subject to SRBC’s review-and-approval authority.  Some key informational requirements for this critical registration include:

  • Identification of metering and monitoring for withdrawals and consumptive uses;
  • Reporting five years of quantity data, or other information that may be used to determine quantities withdrawn or consumptively used;
  • Identification of groundwater levels and elevation monitoring methods for groundwater sources;
  • A description of the processes that involve consumptive uses;
  • A request for specific grandfathered quantities; and
  • Any other information SRBC determines necessary.

Accordingly, it is clear that SRBC intends to scrutinize whether and to what extent currently unregulated withdrawals and uses actually qualify for “grandfathering.”  Under the proposal, the SRBC Executive Director must determine the appropriate grandfathered quantity and, in doing so, can examine the accuracy of metering and monitoring.  Increases of any amount over the determined grandfathered quantity would trigger SRBC’s review-and-approval authority.  Although SRBC’s approach is not yet in final form, those potentially affected should already ensure they are accurately metering and documenting withdrawals and usage.  It will also be important for potentially affected water users to understand their processes and monitor consumptive uses from those processes.  For example, as part of the registration, one provision requires SRBC to evaluate current metering and monitoring and authorizes SRBC to require a metering and monitoring plan.  The proposal would also trigger consumptive-use mitigation, such as fees, for certain grandfathered projects.

Other Projects.  New projects may also be affected by the registration requirements described above because SRBC will use the data on grandfathered projects to analyze the impact on waters of the Basin when deciding to approve or deny a new project.  The proposal also would impose several additional requirements to alter SRBC procedures.  It would amend the required contents of applications for new projects and renewals, requiring specific information depending on the type of project, such as an “alternatives analysis.”  The proposal would amend standards for SRBC’s review and approval and authorize SRBC to require monitoring for impacts to water quality and aquatic biological communities.  SRBC has also proposed to revise the provisions for public hearings and enforcement actions.  For example, the proposal expands the Executive Director’s enforcement authority, allowing the Director to issue compliance orders and determine civil penalty amounts, and acknowledges the SRBC’s use of consent orders and agreements and settlements to resolve enforcement actions.  These are just a few of the various amendments proposed by SRBC that may impact water users.

Next Steps. SRBC intends to hold informational webinars on October 11 and October 17 and then conduct four public hearings throughout November and December, with the first meeting scheduled for November 3 in Harrisburg.  Interested stakeholders should understand how the rules may affect them and weigh in through the public-comment process, which is open until January 30, 2017.  Stakeholders seeking more information or advice should contact attorneys and technical specialists who are experienced in these matters.  McNees contacts include:

 

As we transition from the dog days of summer and prepare for changes that are guaranteed to come this fall in our state and national political landscapes, we at McNees are considering what the upcoming elections and legislative sessions in Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. mean for our clients.  As discussed this summer, the Pennsylvania budget that became law on July 13 2016, provided relief for those who use state funding and its programs. The Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor initially faced  a $1.3 billion shortfall in revenues when working on the FY 16-17 budget.  However, the final budget package was $1.2 billion less in spending than what Governor Wolf initially proposed and 5% higher than last year’s budget.  There are a number of new revenue sources for FY 16-17 including a $1 per pack tax increase on cigarettes with new taxes on e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products; expansion of the sales and use tax on digital downloads of videos, books, etc.; expansion of the income tax to include state lottery winnings, and a bank shares tax increase. While there was no across the board tax increases such as sales or income taxes or a tax on energy, it is expected and very likely that such tax increases will be necessary in the next budget cycle and is something we advise our large energy consumer clients to be mindful of as we approach this fall when elections and upcoming budget discussions will be front and center.

In addition to those relieved that a budget was passed somewhat timely in early July, there was also a sigh of relief for those who benefit from Senate Bill (SB) 1195 (Act 57 of 2016)  that was signed into law on June 23, 2016 and amends the Pennsylvania Greenhouse Gas Regulation Implementation Act by imposing requirements on Pennsylvania state government regarding its submission of a Clean Power Plan (CPP) to the EPA.  The CCP is intended to regulate states’ carbon emissions from existing electric power plants.

Act 57 reflects a compromise between the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Wolf that allows the General Assembly the opportunity to review and approve the state’s proposed CPP before it is submitted to the EPA.  If either chamber of the General Assembly disapproves the draft CPP, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must review and consider the reasons for disapproval and modify the draft CPP.  At that time, the DEP must resubmit a CPP to the General Assembly and open a public comment period for no less than 180 calendar days on the modified CPP during which time the department shall conduct at least four public hearings in geographically dispersed areas of the Commonwealth.  The Act also includes other provisions that address a default approval or a situation where neither chamber approves the draft or resubmitted modified CPP.  The amendment language further restricts the administration from submitting a CPP to the EPA until after the expiration of the stay issued by the United States Supreme Court on February 9, 2016.

While no one can truly predict how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has boldly made its prediction. Recently during a panel discussion hosted during the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia at the end of July 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and energy adviser expressed the campaign’s expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold the CPP and the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.  While Donald Trump has not predicted the high court’s position, he has made clear that he is against the CPP and would work to repeal it regardless of the high court’s ruling.  Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the republican majority dominated General Assembly will be closely monitoring when the U.S. Supreme Court rules and monitor the state’s plan if and when it is submitted to the EPA.  Until then, the political landscape and issues being debated by the presidential candidates are indicators that this Fall will be quite interesting in many respects with the status and future of the CPP being just one of them.

At McNees, our energy attorneys and government relations professionals will be closely monitoring the politics that will affect this and many subjects of interest to our clients.  Please let us know if there is a specific issue or piece of legislation or subject you have interest in learning more about and we will help you.  Please contact Pam Polacek or Kathy Bruder at 232-8000 should you have any questions or want to discuss.