Washing Oversight Downstream

Categories:  News & Politics    Environment    Opinion
Monday, October 20th, 2014 at 3:29 PM
Washing Oversight Downstream by Mary Birdsong

While most of us were paying little, if no, attention, the PA General Assembly, on October 14, passed House Bill 1565, an amendment to the Clean Streams Law (of 1937) which removes the mandate to maintain a 150-foot buffer zone for any new development requiring a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit near streams designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection as “High Quality” or “Exceptional Value.”

The amendment waters down the PA Code regarding these protected streams making the maintenance of a riparian buffer just one of several options the developer may choose. Other options include “replacing” the buffer zone they are destroying by installing one somewhere else on the same watercourse. Read the entire bill here

 The bill was presented to Governor Tom Corbett on October 16.

 Why does this matter? Crawford County has 12 streams designated as High Quality and two as Exceptional Value. Erie County has six streams that are High Quality and one designated Exceptional Value. With the previously mandated protections removed, those streams are now at greater risk for development.

 What doesn’t make sense to this writer is the fact that the original law -- the mandated 150-foot buffer – only applied to those limited, protected watersheds that required the special NPDES permit, and that PA DEP regulations allow for a long list of exceptions to the buffer requirement.  Waivers to the rule are available, too, and in testimony to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Deputy Secretary for Water Management, Kelly Heffner reported that no waiver requests have ever been denied. So why change the law?

Supporters argue that this gives design engineers more “flexibility” in how they choose to execute their development, meaning they think they know best how to protect stream banks, and the government and people don’t really need to oversee their work. They even argue that this will improve and safeguard water quality.

 Groups in support of the bill included primarily Builders’ Associations and some landowner groups. Those against the bill included Trout Unlimited, Pennsylvania Environmental Council of PA, and the PA Fish and Boat Commission. They argue, as do I, that with all the exceptions and waivers currently available, there is no need to further weaken the standing mandate.

 Erie County legislators for the most part voted along party lines with the House Republicans Greg Lucas, Curt Sonney, and Senate Republican Robert Robbins all voting for the measure. House Democrats Pat Harkins, Flo Fabrizio and Senator Sean Wiley all voted against it. Ryan Bizzarro was the only Democrat in the House to vote in favor of the measure. In Crawford County, House Republicans Brad Roae and Michele Brooks voted in favor. (Rep. Lucas and Sen. Robbins also cover part of Crawford County.) If you would like to know who your legislator is go here

 This is now on the governor’s desk. Let him know what you think about it



Erie Reader: Vol. 6, No. 21
Now Available — Pick It Up Today


HBO's newest series as viewed through the lens of the Serial Gamer

Your 2016 Election Day preview 

Curious creatures at home and abroad 

The dollars and sense of lakeshore wind power 

A meeting of the minds to move Erie forward


Your 2016 Election Day preview 

Curious creatures at home and abroad 

The dollars and sense of lakeshore wind power 

A meeting of the minds to move Erie forward

Experience world cinema in a local setting.

Local cups compete to benefit the St. Martin Center.

 Rani Arbo & daisy mayhem’s American Spiritual will satisfy those corners of the soul.

It’s impossible to overstate how perfectly Return to Love opens.

Public health and the health of local budgets are both at stake throughout Pennsylvania.  

Drew Farrell: artist