By Neal Lesher
Gov. Tom Wolf recently signed two regulatory relief bills, drawing the ire of environmental activists. One dealt with controversial oil and gas regulations and the other involved the Obama Administration’s Clean Power edict. Environmental groups were quick to pounce on the Governor for coming to an agreement with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had been raising concerns over these regulations for some time.
We think the Governor made the right decision. We applaud him for practicing common sense. Small-business owners know too well the impact an out-of-control regulatory climate is having on their business and our economy. Poorly crafted rules can be devastating for small businesses. Most small employers don’t have the staff to research new regulatory requirements, develop a plan to comply, or implement that plan. More and more of a small-business owner’s time and money is spent dealing with government regulations, taking away from improving products, enhancing customer service, and growing their business.
Small conventional oil and gas producers raised concerns when the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently rammed through sweeping regulations that lumped them in with larger oil companies doing unconventional drilling. They testified at hearings that the new rules would force smaller companies out of business. Nearly all of Pennsylvania’s conventional oil and gas producers are small businesses — as are the supply stores, excavation contractors and other companies, indirectly involved with conventional oil and gas production.
These conventional gas drillers have been in Pennsylvania since the first shallow well was drilled in Titusville in 1859. That’s why the sudden need for comprehensive new regulatory requirements puzzling. The DEP failed to provide anything but anecdotal evidence of the need.
More troubling was the process the agency used. Not only did DEP fail to develop two sets of regulations for small and large drillers, as required by Act 126 of 2014. The agency also did not comply with a law requiring it seek less costly alternatives for small businesses or prove why that can’t be achieved. In some cases, DEP did no analysis at all. NFIB fought hard several years ago to have those provisions added to the Regulatory Review Act to protect small businesses.
These agency actions should serve as a warning sign for small businesses in every industry. If regulators are willing to abuse their power to run roughshod over one industry, what businesses are next? Ultimately, the Governor made the right decision by hitting the reset button and blocking these regulations from going into effect.
The coal industry in Pennsylvania is also aware of the impact of overreaching government regulations. Many small businesses in Pennsylvania serving the coal industry have already been hit hard by both regulations and market changes. Now those companies risk being wiped out altogether by the implementation of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan.
Even though the Supreme Court delayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan after NFIB and others sued, there was still a concern in Pennsylvania when the DEP indicated it was still moving forward.
Lawmakers representing the coal regions responded by crafting a bill that ensures the state legislature can weigh in on any plan the DEP develops. The bill would also prevent the agency from submitting the Plan to the EPA until the Supreme Court stay is lifted. NFIB hopes in the long run, the federal courts see the Clean Power Plan for what it is and permanently strike it down.
NFIB is encouraged to see Governor Wolf agree to these changes and pleased to see the Legislature rein in the regulatory machine. Hopefully, this is a starting point that ultimately leads to further regulatory reforms that will provide relief for small businesses.
Neil Lesher is NFIB Pennsylvania’s Legislative Director. NFIB is the leading advocate for small business owners, with offices in Washington, D.C., and every state capital. Its mission is to defend the right of small business owners to run their businesses without undue government interference and to advance public policies that promote their success.