Read the full article by Kyle Bagenstose
“A bill that would pay for the costs of local water contaminated by PFAS chemicals by redirecting state tax revenue in the area was passed by the House on Thursday. However, with just a handful of voting days left in Harrisburg this year, some are expressing doubts it’ll clear the Senate in time to become law.
‘They’d have to move pretty quickly, but I’m hopeful we can get it done,’ said state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, of Horsham, who introduced the legislation.
Stephens’ district includes the former Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove, the site of significant contamination with PFAS, also called perfluorinated compounds. Firefighting foams used for decades at the now-closed base, along with the adjacent Horsham Air Guard Station and nearby Naval Air Warfare Center in Warminster, contained the chemicals and polluted groundwater.
The chemicals eventually found their way into the drinking water of 70,000 people served by the Horsham, Warminster and Warrington water authorities. It was discovered in 2014 and all three towns passed non-detect plans to filter the chemicals out of their water systems completely. The military agreed to pay to filter water sources, but only those contaminated above an advisory level issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. That created a funding gap that left the towns on the hook for millions of dollars in order to complete their non-detect plans.
The towns in large part had to pass the costs onto their consumers in the form of surcharges.
Stephens said his H.B. 2638, introduced last month, would help pay for the surcharges and other related costs by giving communities the ability to form an independent authority, which could then redirect state tax revenues stemming from the redevelopment of contaminated properties toward the local costs of dealing with the contamination.
‘In a nutshell, it creates an ongoing funding stream to eliminate the surcharge, clean up the contamination in any community that’s been polluted, and also drive redevelopment of the parcels that are contaminated,’ Stephens said.
According to the bill, the decision to redirect taxes would come from an authority made up of any state senators or representatives living in the community, a representative from the town, a representative from the school district, and a representative from any redevelopment authority that exists for the area. House and Senate leadership would appoint a substitute member if no lawmakers live in the community.
Redirected taxes would include any corporate, sales, use, realty transfer, and personal income taxes generated on land located within a former military installation. The town would have to kick in some local tax as well, with the state’s share capped at 500 percent of local taxes.
Stephens said the program would extend to parcels of land that were development restricted, such as land near runways and up to 100 acres of undervalued commercial property.
But there’s a catch.
While Stephens’ original bill restricted the program for only properties affected by PFAS contamination from military installations, an amendment from state Rep. John Maher, R-Allegheny County, expanded the scope so that any community with water pollution identified by the EPA or Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection could also take advantage of the process. Stephens, along with many members of Bucks County’s House delegation, unsuccessfully voted against the amendment.
David Hess, a former DEP secretary who now tracks environmental bills in Harrisburg, predicted that because the bill deals with potentially large amounts of revenues and introduces new concepts, it will have a difficult time clearing the Senate. The Senate has only Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday left for voting this year.”