Policy Committee Hears Support for Closing Hazardous Waste Loopholes

Senator Katie MuthSenator Katie Muth (Image via Pennsylvania Senate Democrats)

HARRISBURG, PA — On Thursday, State Sen. Katie Muth (D-Montgomery/Chester/Berks), Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, along with Rep. Innamorato (D-Allegheny) hosted a policy hearing on legislation that would close the hazardous waste loophole in Pennsylvania state law.

The hearing included four panels of testifiers featuring experts, state regulators, investigative journalists, and impacted community members that shined light on the public health and environmental dangers caused by the improper disposal of radioactive waste from the oil and gas industry and continued failures by state and federal regulators to protect public health and Pennsylvania’s natural resource. Muth and Innamorato have legislation in the House and Senate that would close the hazardous waste loophole.

“Legislation that addresses environmental hazards, radioactive waste and the residual damage caused by fracking are not radical ideas – they are commonsense initiatives that prioritize public health and our environment over companies who make billions of dollars from our communities’ natural resources and taxpayer-funded subsidies, raking in the profits and socializing the risk,” Muth said. “I hope [this] discussion gets the attention of every member of the government and if they don’t take action, they’re part of the problem.  If those that are elected to serve the public don’t take action on this urgent health emergency that Pennsylvania families are facing due to the extraction industry and the hazardous waste loophole, then they’re failing to serve the public.  Evidence and data on this harm has existed for decades.”

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Sen. Muth has introduced companion legislation – Senate Bills 644645 and 646 – mirroring Rep. Innamorato’s House Bills 13541353 and 1355.

“Pennsylvanians have an indisputable constitutional right to clean air and water. The science on this issue is clear thanks to the bravery of whistle-blowers, researchers and the families living with the impacts of this industry. We know the risks involved in working with hazardous and radioactive oil and gas waste,” Rep. Innamorato said. “This isn’t a knowledge problem, it’s a political courage problem. The legislature needs only an iota of the understanding that researchers have to see past misinformation, the dedication community members have to focus on this issue, and the courage that whistleblowers have to resolve this issue for Pennsylvanians.”

The bills would repeal the 30-year-old exemption from testing hazardous waste for the gas and oil industry and update the Solid Waste Management Act to hold the oil and gas industry to the same waste regulations as other industries and would keep harmful radioactive toxins out of Pennsylvania’s air, groundwater, waterways and drinking water supplies across the state.

“Pennsylvania’s paltry regulations have already enabled an easily traceable trail of contamination to be spilled across the great state of Pennsylvania, and quite literally, deposited in the bones and bodies of its people,” Justin Nobel, investigative reporter and author said. “Just because you do not believe the science or know the science or care to read a few research papers to understand the science does not mean the science doesn’t exist,and does not mean the science won’t eventually lead to lethal cancers in the Pennsylvania workers you are charged with protecting.”

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The testifiers at the public hearing included representatives from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection; subject matter experts; investigative reporters; and community voices. The common thread among all testifiers was that the lack of proper regulations on the oil and gas industry is dangerous for the environment and for the health of Pennsylvania families.

“If you were to seal up a container of produced water from a Marcellus Shale well, in two weeks it would be five times as radioactive due to the buildup of decay products. And that is what is going into the landfills. This practice is affecting the quality of the leachate, rendering it more toxic and radioactive,” Dr. John Stolz, Director of the Center for Environmental Research and Education at Duquesne University, said. “Regardless of the future of oil and gas development in the state, the more than 11,000 unconventional wells already drilled will continue to generate the toxic and radioactive brine. We need laws that will address the proper disposal of this waste to make sure it doesn’t wind up in our drinking water.”

Washington County was home to the first unconventional well in the state in 2004. By the end of 2019, the state Department of Environmental Protection reported more than 12,000 wells in Pennsylvania. Nearly 1,800 are in Washington County.

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“As a mother of two young kids, the increase of childhood cancers in the region is alarming. One school district in Washington County had several cases of rare bone cancer and Greene County, where I live, has more childhood cancer cases per capita than the rest of the state,” Veronica Coptis, Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, added. “We are asking our legislators to protect our health from oil and gas waste and to take these proactive measures to put the health of our children before private profits.”

Both the House and Senate bills remain stuck in their respective Environmental Resources and Energy Committees, as the Majority chairperson is the only member of a committee with the power to bring a bill up for a vote.

The full list of participants and panels from this week’s Policy Committee hearing included:

Panel 1: Experts

Panel 2: Administration

Panel 3: Investigative reporters

Panel 4: Community Voices

The full recording of the policy hearing, as well as the written testimony from participants, can be found at senatormuth.com/policy.

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