Corbett approves bills on stream buffers and carbon plan

  • Marie Cusick

Governor Corbett signed a pair of bills Wednesday dealing with two hot-button environmental issues. The first would eliminate stream buffer requirements for the state’s cleanest waterways. The second measure gives legislators a role in crafting a federally-mandated carbon reduction plan–a top priority for the state’s coal industry.
The stream bill removes the 150 feet buffer requirement between new developments and Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams. It was supported by the Pennsylvania Builder’s Association. The law only applies projects that need stormwater discharge permits and are adjacent to the state’s “high quality” or “exceptional value” streams – a small percentage of waterways. Supporters have said the buffers amounted to eminent domain that restricted landowners. Environmental groups criticized the measure as a step backwards.
A separate bill approved by Corbett requires legislative approval of a federally-mandated carbon pollution plan. Under proposed rules recently put forth by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania will have to cut its carbon emissions by 32 percent over the next 15 years. The new climate policy will mean major changes for the state’s energy industries.
The new law gives the state House and Senate 20 days to consider the carbon plan crafted by the state Department of Environmental Protection. Legislators can either approve it or ask for changes. If neither chamber votes on a final plan in time, it will be automatically approved and submitted to the federal government.
The coal industry lobbied heavily in favor of the measure, arguing the carbon plan will significantly impact its business. A coalition of environmental groups opposed it saying that it will create an extra bureaucratic hurdle for cutting carbon pollution.