Tuesday, March 6, 2012

DEP Secretary: Budget Does Something Very Important- No Staff Layoffs

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer underwent nearly three hours of questions about his agency's 2012-13 proposed budget from members of the House Appropriations Committee today.  Most of the questions were the same as those from the Senate budget hearing.
            Secretary Krancer said one of the most important accomplishments in this budget is that it funds the agency programs without any staff furloughs.  In contrast, Gov. Rendell's last budget resulted in taking DEP's budget back to 1994-95 levels and layoffs at DEP and DCNR.
            A copy of Secretary Krancer's formal budget statement is available online.  Here are some highlights from the questions asked--
Marcellus Shale Inspections: Secretary Krancer said the agency has significantly increased the number of inspections of Marcellus Shale drill sites from about 16,000 in 2010 to 24,000 in 2011.

            Secretary Krancer also explained an internal team of DEP staff reviewed the agency's oil and gas enforcement policies, the violations issued and enforcement actions taken and announced recommended program changes aimed at achieving more consistency last November.
            DEP has already implemented a more detailed electronic inspection form and developed additional training for inspectors and water quality specialists.
Dimock Drilling Water Issues: In response to a question about water issues in Dimock and drilling, Secretary Krancer said his processor did a good job on the issues there and the consent order signed in 2010.  He said residents have been given options for treating their well water.  He noted the Center for Rural Pennsylvania documented as many as 40 percent of private wells have some sort of pre-existing water quality problems.
Marcellus Well Inventory: In response to a question about a newspaper report that 495 Marcellus wells were not in the DEP database, Secretary Krancer said DEP is working on its data management system which is always an issue.
            He said he DEP just gave the Public Utility Commission the latest information they have on the number and location of Marcellus Shale wells.  He said the same information will be made available to members of the Senate and House and through a special link on the DEP website.
            This issue was also addressed in Secretary Krancer's written opening statement.
DRBC Funding: Secretary Krancer said other states have reduced their funding to DRBC by 70 percent (Delaware), New York cut their funding for DRBC by 20 percent and the federal government has not been paying its share when Pennsylvania only reduced it by 5 percent.
Conservation District Funding: Secretary Krancer said funding for county conservation districts in the new Marcellus Shale law supplements funding that is now in the budget proposal.
Privatization Of Permit Reviews: Secretary Krancer said the agency would consider using third party, private entities to review parts of permit applications, but not privatize the actual decision on the permit.  He said the agency is looking at a number of options for making permit reviews more efficient.
Alternative Fuel Grants: In response to a question on the $6.5 million reduction in grants to support alternative fuel projects, Secretary Krancer said there are provisions in the new Marcellus law to support the development of green fuel corridors.
Flood Recovery Funding: Secretary Krancer said the cuts to the flood control and stormwater funding line items will not have a bearing on funding projects related to last year's flood damage.  He noted the new Marcellus law allows counties to use drilling fees for flood control projects and a portion of the fees goes to the Commonwealth Financing Agency for flood projects.
            Questioned about the issue of cleaning out gravel bars, Secretary Krancer said it is sometimes not always obvious that removing a gravel bar may in fact help reduce flooding.  He noted the magnitude of flooding last September probably would not have been reduced by removing the gravel bars.  He did promise to look into some of the specific issues raised by members of the Committee.
Delaware River Flooding: In response to a question about New York reservoir releases contributing to flooding along the Delaware River, Secretary Krancer said Pennsylvania has been working with New York under the flexible flow management agreement to provide better control of Delaware River levels.
Sewage Facilities Enforcement & Planning Grants: He noted applications for enforcement grants have decreased since 2008 and local governments have the ability to raise fees and have budgeted for the reductions in reimbursements.  He said there is currently a backlog of several years worth of sewage planning grants which will not receive reimbursement until 2015-16.  As a result, there should be minimal impact on local sewage planning activities.
EPA Actions On Chesapeake Bay Farms: In response to questions about actions taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to inspect farms in Lancaster County, Secretary Krancer said he hopes Pennsylvania does not see what others have called "heavy handed actions" in the future.
            He said DEP has been able to get EPA's attention on mistakes they made in their modeling to make sure Bay standards are scientifically sound.  He acknowledged EPA had found some problems with the state's Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan, but said they also liked a lot of it.
            Secretary Krancer said one of the other issues is getting credit for the voluntary steps farmers and others are taking to reduce nutrients and sediments going to the Bay.
Dam Safety Permit Fees: Questioned about why a recent permit fee increase proposal covering dams and waterway encroachments exempts publicly owned dams from paying fees, Secretary Krancer said the permit fee package is now out for comments and encouraged concerned parties to make comments on the proposed rule.
Management Salary Freeze: Asked about the state government-wide issue of the management pay freeze which the questioner said has been in place for four years, Secretary Krancer said the Governor's budget allows a 1 percent increase for management staff, in line with union-negotiated pay increases.  
Air Quality Fees: Secretary Krancer said Air Quality Permit Fees proposed in 2010 were not grounded in a business case and the agency is working on a proposal.
            A copy of Secretary Krancer's opening statement is available online.
            Video of the Senate budget hearings for the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Protection are available online.   Click Here to watch a video of the House DCNR hearing.

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