Lawmakers are advancing a measure to change the state’s Clean Streams Law.
Supporters say it will make the law more practical for businesses to follow, but critics argue it will be impractical to enforce.
Under House Bill 1842, the Department of Environmental Protection would have one year to determine how much of each kind of pollutant someone can spill before they have to report it.
Now, if someone spills any amount of something toxic or potentially damaging, they need to alert DEP, which will determine if the spill poses a threat and how to clean it up.
Supporters said numerical standards for pollution enforcement would bring Pennsylvania in line with neighboring states.
“DEP is all about writing reports and issuing fines, but cleaning up actual spills and determining them as true pollutants seems to not be their forte,” said Rep. David Zimmerman (R-Lancaster), the bill’s sponsor.
Zimmerman said DEP’s current practice, which can vary by region, is unfair to farmers and businesses. He said determining what constitutes a dangerous spill could free up DEP staff to focus on true emergencies.
Opponents said the bill will hurt the state’s ability to protect its waterways.
“We are being asked to force DEP to anticipate every possible spill scenario ahead of time and write regulations dictating the regulatory requirements for each one,” said Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny).
Critics say the one year timeframe for creating new regulations is especially unworkable. New regulations often take up to two years to develop.
The bill passed the House mainly along party lines and now heads to the Senate.
The Wolf Administration opposes it. In a statement, it said the bill “makes it easier to pollute our waters by eliminating critical safeguards in the Clean Streams Law that protect our waterways.”
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.