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Bill to Amend the Clean Streams Act Enters State House

Senate Bill 619, introduced by state Senator Gene Yaw (R -23) is now in the House of Representatives. The bill is intended to lessen the reporting requirements related to chemical spills and other water contamination in an effort to “establish clear, practical reporting obligation[s]”

The bill would amend the Clean Streams Law of 1937 and part of the current Pennsylvania Code. As it stands now, the DEP has interpreted and enforced the Clean Streams Law to require reporting of any and all spills into any body of water in the state to be reported to the DEP. Under the new amendment, only spills that meet the threshold of federal reporting mandates, or the criteria of 24 Pa. Code Ch. 93 would be under mandate to report.

The material difference in the new amendment is in the measurement of a spill, and the risk presented as a result of a spill. Per a memo by Senator Yaw, “the purpose of The Clean Streams Law is to regulate and control potentially harmful discharges, not to impose an impractical and unnecessary requirement on every business and individual in the Commonwealth to report every drop spilled at their facilities or homes.” The new legislation would exempt spills that do not exceed a certain numeric water quality criterion from being reported.

There are many opponents to the bill, including some Democratic legislators and various environmental groups who question the new measurement standards, and hold a different interpretation of the Clean Streams Law and the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Spills from the natural gas industry are a large concern for the state. Since its start in 2012, there have been dozens of spills across the state, leading to fines, rerouting of pipelines, and criminal charges being levied against some operators.

Under the Environmental Rights Amendment, citizens of the Commonwealth “have a right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

The proposed amendment is one of the latest moves by Republican state legislators, who have introduced several bills to streamline processes or deregulate the industry. Another such example is the Energize PA bill package, a series of seven bills intended to stimulate natural gas development in the state, which was introduced to the state House in 2019.

Senator Yaw’s bill passed the state Senate in 2019, and is now under consideration in the House.

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