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Commonwealth moves to buffer water quality and control drilling waste
Commonwealth moves to protect rivers with new wastewater and stormwater rules
Mobilization of citizens, organizations and legislators succeeds in limiting pollution in streams
(Harrisburg) – The PA Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted today to enact new protections for the state’s rivers and streams. Two regulations were approved to set new treatment requirements for wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations, and to require buffers along our best streams when new development is proposed there. These new rules fall under Title 25, in the PA code, Chapter 95, Wastewater Treatment Requirements, and Chapter 102, Erosion and Sedimentation Control.
Myron Arnowitt, PA State Director for Clean Water Action stated, “Pennsylvania is taking a big step forward to protect our rivers and our drinking water supplies. Both natural gas drilling wastewater and stormwater from uncontrolled development can quickly contaminate any river. We are glad to see that our state regulators heeded the call of so many in this state who want to see more done for clean water.”
Altogether over 8,000 comments were received by the state from the public, with over 90% in support of the proposed water protection rules. 100 organizations supported the new rules, several major water suppliers in the state, and 50 state legislators wrote in support.
“With the state handing out thousands of new permits to drill gas wells in the Marcellus Shale, it is critical that we have rules in place to protect our rivers from this highly contaminated wastewater,” continued Arnowitt.
Currently wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling is either going to treatment plants that are not capable of taking out many of the contaminants, or municipal sewage plants are discharging the wastewater without any treatment at all. With the passage of new treatment requirements it is expected that new plants capable of fully cleaning the water will begin to be constructed.
Brady Russell, Eastern PA Director for Clean Water Action, stated the following regarding the new stream buffer requirements, “We are very happy that today Pennsylvania approved 150-foot wide forested buffers on the top 25% of the stream miles in our state. Forests beside streams do a great job of supporting aquatic life, filtering out pollution and slowing down floods. With time, the buffers rule will improve water quality in our state. Congratulations to the Commission for taking this positive action.”
Over 140 organizations in the state have endorsed requiring stream buffers on any new development in the state. Clean Water Action’s survey of municipalities found that nearly 200 townships have passed local laws requiring stream buffers. Many of these local requirements are already stronger than what was approved for the entire state today.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission is the last step in approving any new regulation in the state. The rules are currently ongoing a 14 day review period by the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees. If the state legislative committees do not act in 14 days, the rules will become official.
“We are concerned that some in the state legislature may try to stop these rules from going into effect. We would urge the State House and State Senate to consider how popular these protections are with the public,” stated Arnowitt.
Streamside buffers are undisturbed strips of land alongside streams allowed to revert to their naturally forested state. The scientific community has come to a consensus that streamside buffers are one of the best ways to preserve water quality in streams. The new rules require a 150 foot buffer on both sides of a stream when new development is proposed in Exceptional Value (EV) or High Quality (HQ) watersheds.
The new wastewater rule would set a discharge standard of 500 milligrams per liter (mg/L) for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and 250 mg/L each for Sulfates and Chlorides for natural gas drillers. These standards will ensure that drinking water quality standards are attainable for the majority of Pennsylvania municipal water customers whose water comes from the state’s surface waterways.
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission is made up of appointees from each of the General Assembly’s four party caucuses and appointee from the Governor. Its mission is to make sure regulations are consistent with legislative intent and the public interest. Regulations are approved by a majority vote of Commissioners.
Clean Water Action is an organization of 1.2 million members working to empower people to take action to protect America's waters, build healthy communities and to make democracy work for all of us. For 36 years Clean Water Action has succeeded in winning some of the nation's most important environmental protections through grassroots organizing, expert policy research and political advocacy focused on holding elected officials accountable to the public.