Tuesday, February 5, 2013

DEP, DCNR Secretaries Respond To Concerns About Budget Cuts

On Tuesday DEP Secretary Michael Krancer and DCNR Secretary Richard Allan sent a letter to PA Environment Digest responding to an article entitled, “Growing Leaner: Shrinking Commitment to the Environment Over Last 10 Years.”
The response seeks to put 10 years of cuts to staff and funding for environmental programs in the context of recent Corbett Administration actions.
Here’s their letter--
We read with interest your recent blog entitled, “Growing Leaner: Shrinking Commitment to the Environment Over the Last 10 Years.”  There are a few things which you have overlooked that need to be brought to your attention.
We disagree with your assertion that Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration lacks commitment and fiscal support for the Departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources.  Gov. Corbett has now proposed three budgets in a row that call for no furloughs at either DEP or DCNR. That itself is a telling departure from his predecessor.  Your assertion that both agencies are not doing everything they are required to do by law is irresponsible and does little to advance an honest and fact-based dialogue about the best use of public dollars to protect and preserve our environment.
First of all, as an overarching matter, your “analysis” is anachronistic.  The analysis ignores the fact that reporting criteria have changed and are much different now than a decade ago.  It also ignores the fact that today there are much more detailed performance measures we now track.
We disagree, as do the vast majority of taxpayers, with the assertion that merely spending more money automatically equates to increased environmental protection.  A Quinnipiac public opinion poll released just last week reflects that taxpayers fully understand the difficult financial situation facing the nation and the states, and the importance of prioritizing the use of state financial resources and tax dollars.  The public also understands and demands that government bring innovative solutions beyond just spending more money.
This is also reflected by the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), the national non-profit, non-partisan association of state and territorial environmental agencies.  An August 2012 resolution passed by ECOS says, among other things, that “State recognize that innovative approaches hold great promise for building upon environmental successes” and that “the federal government and the States need to work together to encourage the development of more efficient, cost-effective and common sense strategies, especially in light of severe budget constraints” and that “state continue to demonstrate leadership in promoting such new, efficient, and effective ways of achieving desired environmental objectives, which ensuring that any new approaches do not weaken environmental and public health protection.”
During the past two plus years under Gov. Corbett’s leadership, both agencies have adopted more modern business practices and enhanced performanced-base budgeting.  That has resulted in our organizations working more efficiently and effectively.  These measures have been demanded by citizens and employers of Pennsylvania and reflect current and appropriate views on how government is supposed to operate.  A more streamlined organization was the cornerstone of DEP’s reorganization in 2011, a plan you publicly applauded in your blog and during several interviews with Pennsylvania media outlets which we appreciate.
At DEP, our commitment to and focus on smart management and a back-to-basics approach resulted in the recently announced Permit Review Process and Permit Decision Guarantee Policy.  Through the development of the new policy, it became obvious that past metrics and criteria that DEP was tracking and using to measure performance were no longer meaningful or relevant as they may have been in the past.  DEP’s newly revised criteria represent how we can best measure our performance, success and overall impact today on environmental protection and restoration across the Commonwealth.
The numbers tell the story.  Since September, the backlog of permit applications you cited which was left by the last administration has been reduced by 37 percent in just five months.  Many of those permits in the backlog were inactive, sometimes for years, for a variety of reasons and applicants simply chose to withdraw them.
Your analysis of the recently released 2011-12 Report on State Performance also misses the mark.  Your headline erroneously concludes there has been a 12 percent decrease in environmental compliance since 2001.  While the headline is sensational and attention grabbing, which is the purpose of a headline, it bears no relationship to the actual facts and data.  Our calculations and data analysis show the 2012 compliance rate was actually 77.76 compared to 2001 compliance rate of 73.04 percent, a 4.63 increase in compliance.
Additionally, DEP inspected more than 38,500 distinct facilities in 2012 compared to the 32,400 facility inspections reported in 2001.  Moreover, DEP completed the additional 6,000 facility inspections with 13.6 fewer staff.  This demonstrates that DEP is operating on better, more accurate and efficient metrics and is delivering more efficient government service.  DEP has achieved these increased efficiencies through better training, better time management and technology upgrades for our inspectors.
Your derisive reference to DEP having not issued an annual report on its accomplishments is ironic in light of your own citation to and reliance on statistics from the most recent Report on State Performance.  That report is a comprehensive listing of the activities, challenges and accomplishments of 30 Commonwealth agencies to which DEP contributes.  In addition, DEP is legislatively mandated to produce dozens of reports to the legislature for particular programs.  Frankly, adding yet another report to our plate would only be window-dressing and take away time from staff whose efforts are better spent reviewing permits or inspecting facilities.
Your comments about DCNR are likewise unfair and off the mark.  Pennsylvania’s state forest was just independently certified for the 15 year in a row.  This confirms that DCNR is effectively managing and stewarding the forest in a way that protects its long-term health.  This is so even with an increase in responsible energy extraction activity related to the Marcellus Shale.  In addition, our system of 120 state parks, which DCNR manages, are recognized as one of the best in the country and we continue our commitment to operating efficiently and are delivering a quality visitor experience.  DCNR’s statewide outdoor recreation plan is nationally recognized.  DCNR continues to support community revitalization through out landscape approach and a robust grant program that invests in recreation and conservation at the local level.
We (DCNR) have been able through good management, and the support of the General Assembly, over the past two years to offset General Fund reductions by using the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to support DCNR conservation and recreation efforts.  At the same time, DCNR’s budget has remained intact during a time of significant reductions in other areas.  By constantly looking for new efficiencies and sources of revenue, DCNR will continue to maintain its unique balance of conservation practices and economic development.
Today, we are all, both in the public and private sectors, required to be more judicious than perhaps ever before with our use of resources.  This is not an era, either nationally or in any state in the Union, of $1 billion state budget surpluses and big check presentations made from those surpluses.  Rather, we, like every other state has been called on to do, have refocused on our agencies’ core missions as we continue to emerge from the biggest economic recession since the Great Depression, while restoring Pennsylvania’s resources impact by legacy environmental issues.
We can assure you and all Pennsylvanians that our two agencies strive every day to improve our performance and efficiency while working in partnership with the regulated community and all other stakeholders to achieve the highest in environmental compliance and resource protection.
If you have any questions please contact Tom Santanna, DEP’s Director of Legislative Affairs, by email to tsantanna@pa.gov or by telephone at 717-783-8303; or Nathan Flood, DCNR’s Director of Legislation and Advisory Councils, by email at nflood@pa.gov or telephone at 717-772-9084.

Michael L. Krancer, Secretary Department of Environmental Protection
Richard J. Allan, Secretary Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

A copy of the letter is available online.

Link: Corbett Proposes $10 Million Increase In Farmland Preservation, DEP Staff Cuts

Editor’s Note: “This letter contains some new information on how DEP and DCNR have dealt with significant budget constraints during the Corbett Administration, but it does not dispute any of the fundamental facts about what has happened to environmental funding over the last decade.
“It would be great to know more about how DEP and DCNR are dealing with these cuts and the measures they are using to chart their success.  The information available now is very limited.
“Past Republican Administrations have thoroughly documented their efficiency efforts, for example, the Regulatory Basics Initiative, started in 1995, eliminated 4,500 pages of outdated, confusing or unnecessary guidance documents and saved the regulated community an estimated $672 million in compliance costs and DEP $5 million in staff time.
“And the RBI program was undertaken with the help of DEP’s advisory committees and an extensive public participation process.
“I hoped the original article would generate a debate on the state of environmental funding, and it has, but I stand by the facts and conclusions in the article.”

-- David E. Hess, former Secretary Department of Environmental Protection

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