Scrambling To Aid Polluters

May 4, 2019

Pennsylvanians often are frustrated by the glacial pace of the state government. But they should be grateful that the state Department of Environmental Protection has yet to implement an anti-consumer, pro-polluter regulatory change demanded by the Republican majorities of the General Assembly in 2017.

Under the change, the state will transfer from coal companies to water customers the cost of removing manganese that the coal companies dump into public streams.

Manganese is not particularly harmful but it does affect water quality. The regulation limits how much manganese is allowed in water that coal operators discharge into streams. No more than 1 part per million may be in surface waters at least 99 percent of the time.

The change demanded by the lawmakers would maintain the 1 part per million standard. But it would shift responsibility for limiting manganese from the coal operators at the point of discharge, to municipal water authorities or private water companies that extract the water for delivery to customers. That would shift millions of dollars in compliance costs from the companies that generate the pollution to water utilities, which will pass it on to customers.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati of Jefferson County and Senate Environment and Energy Committee Chairman Gene Yaw of Lycoming County, both Republicans, recently filed a lawsuit asking the Commonwealth Court to force the DEP to implement the regulation.

They make a valid point in arguing that the DEP has a duty to implement legislative decisions — even lousy ones like this.

Lawmakers should use the controversy to revisit the issue and repeal the 2017 change, which would leave the costs of pollution cleanup in the hands of the entities that generate it, rather than with water consumers.