Davis introduces air pollution legislation calling for larger fines, alert system

Sophomore legislator hopes larger fines will act as deterrent to continued emission exceedances

HARRISBURG, Aug. 12 – In a sweeping response to the negligence displayed before and after the Clairton Coke Works fire in December 2018, state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny, on Monday introduced legislation that would enact larger fines for industrial sites that exceed pollution thresholds and require facilities to create a municipal warning system.

Davis, whose district houses the Clairton Coke Works site and suffered firsthand from the sulphur dioxide emissions following the December 2018 fire, said the mishap in his district and the recent incident at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery complex drove home the importance of introducing this bill before legislators return to session on Tuesday, Sept. 17.

“These were two incidents that were not only unfortunate but detrimental to the environment and the residents residing in the general vicinity of both sites. Laws and regulations currently exist to make sure we have clean air and to also monitor industrial sites so that the public is protected from excessive emissions,” Davis said.

“However, these incidents are still happening – exceedance thresholds are happening daily, and it’s the public that suffers. The time to act is now, which is why I’ve introduced legislation that will increase fines and put some teeth into preventing air pollution in the first place. It’s my hope that my colleagues will consider this legislation in the House chamber when we return to session.”

Davis said H.B. 1752 would significantly increase fines for facilities found to exceed pollution thresholds, in hopes that the larger fines will act as a stronger deterrent and encourage investments to avoid future violations. The current fine in Pennsylvania for Air Quality violations is $20,000. Davis’ legislation would raise the fine to $37,500, which mirrors the Environmental Protection Agency’s current fine amount.

The legislation also would require all major facilities to develop and maintain a municipal notification plan designed to give notice to immediate and surrounding communities in the event of an air pollution incident.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, whose Health Department worked closely with Davis on this matter, said, “We are grateful to Representative Davis for introducing this legislation and are hopeful of its quick passage through the legislature. This legislation will give our Health Department additional tools to ensure quick compliance from companies. More importantly, it provides a requirement that companies take responsibility for notifying those who live and work near their facilities so that they are informed about any incident that may impact them or their health."

Specifically, H.B. 1752 would require notification as soon as possible and within 12 hours of the breakdown or accident, unless the risk is eliminated before notice is required. It also would establish the quickest way to notify municipalities of possible pollution risks; communicate measures for community members to undertake in order to mitigate the risk of the air pollution incident; and require yearly plan updates to ensure municipal contact procedures are up to date.

Davis noted that the Department of Environmental Protection or local air pollution control agency with jurisdiction over a facility would also require revisions to the facility’s municipal notification plan.