Wednesday, February 20, 2013

DEP Secretary: Third Year In Row Without Proposing Layoffs At DEP

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer told the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday he thought DEP’s budget was adequate to accomplish its mission and in-fact in some areas his agency’s budget was trending in an upward direction.
Secretary Krancer answered questions in front of the Committee for more than 2 hours, 30 minutes longer than scheduled.

In his formal 11-page written testimony, Secretary Krancer said, “DEP is proud to be an active partner in delivering on Gov. Corbett’s promise to make state government more efficient and customer-service-oriented and get DEP back to its core function of protecting public health and the environment.”
He noted, “This is Governor Corbett’s third consecutive budget requiring no furloughs at DEP -  a marked distinction from the prior administration.”
His remarks highlighted the agency’s accomplishments in 12 areas--
-- Permit Review Process and Permit Decision Guarantee;
-- Southeastern Pennsylvania Refineries;
-- Act 13’s Natural Gas Vehicles Grant Program;
-- Acid Mine Drainage Initiative and Success Stories;
-- Susquehanna River Study Efforts;
-- Homer City Generating Station Permitting;
-- Oil and Gas Program Electronic Permitting;
-- Air General Permit 5 and Air Emissions Statewide;
-- Recommended Delisting Presque Isle Bay from the List of Great Lakes “Areas of Concern;”
-- Elimination of Redundancies;
-- West Nile Virus - Record Acreage; and
-- Public Outreach and Compliance Assistance Webinars.
The bulk of the Secretary’s appearance before the Committee was taken up by questions from members.  They included--

DEP Staffing: Secretary Krancer said he is comfortable with the staffing levels at DEP and for the third year in a row there have been no furloughs during the Corbett Administration.  The levels of staffing for the Oil and Gas Program, for example, are separately funded and have done 12,000 inspections the last year, up from 10,000 the year before.

DEP Budget Trends: Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) noted the trend of General Fund monies going to DEP has been going down significantly in recent years and asked if he was concerned about that trend.  He also noted the cut to funding for flood control projects. Secretary Krancer said the proposed budget this year is trending up and is adequate for the department.  He also noted this is the third year in a row without staff furloughs.  The trend is going up, he said.

Conservation Districts: Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware), Majority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed concern about the elimination of General Fund appropriations to conservation districts in the proposed budget. Secretary Krancer said the financial health of the conservation districts should be more stable thanks to funding provided by the Marcellus Shale drilling fee revenue.  In addition, he said conservation districts can also generate fee revenue to fund their operations.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Cleanup Status: Rep. Ron Miller (R-York), Majority Chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, asked for a status of Chesapeake Bay cleanup and the steps DEP is taking to reduce the cost of compliance with the cleanup mandates.  He also pointed out other rivers and streams face similar cleanup requirements through watershed TMDLs.
Secretary Krancer said DEP is working with other states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get the science right on the cleanup.  He pointed out the agriculture community, wastewater plants and other sectors have tremendous progress in reducing nutrient pollution going into the Susquehanna and the Chesapeake Bay.

Nutrient Trading/Listing Susquehanna As Impaired: Rep. Gordon Denlinger (R-Lancaster) asked for written response on the status of the nutrient credit trading program and its impact on non-point sources of pollution and an explanation of the interaction with the Fish and Boat Commission on listing the Susquehanna River as impaired.

Abandoned Mine Reclamation: Rep. Mike Carroll (D-Monroe) asked what the status of abandoned mine reclamation efforts were in the anthracite region of the state, in particular, the status of federal monies going for reclamation efforts.  He added abandoned mine reclamation was still a significant problem in the region.  Secretary Krancer said he would have to get back to the Committee on that issue.

On-lot Sewage System Buffers: Rep. Mike Peifer (R-Monroe) expressed concerned about new regulations creating buffers from high quality and exceptional value streams for on-lot septic systems.  He asked if monies could be provided to challenge the court rulings that may have resulted in these regulations.  Secretary Krancer said sometimes no one has control over court rulings given the structure of the three branches of government.

Sewage Facility Grants: Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) expressed concern about the proposed budget zeroing out of the Sewage Facility Enforcement and Planning Grants and its impact on the handling of local development.  Secretary Krancer said funding for sewage facility improvements are one of the activities funded through Marcellus Shale drilling fees.

Funding Local Sewer Plants: Rep. Mauree Gingrich (R-Lebanon) asked what funding options local governments have for wastewater projects.  Secretary Krancer said funding is available through PennVEST and under Marcellus Shale drilling fees.

Stream Flood Debris Removal: Rep. David Millard (R-Columbia) expressed concern about the adequacy of funding and the permits needed for removing gravel bars and flood debris in streams and rivers after flooding incidents.  Secretary Krancer said some drilling fees will fund stream restoration projects.

Flood Control Project Funding: Rep. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) asked why funding for flood control projects was eliminated in the proposed budget.  Secretary Krancer deferred the question to Budget Secretary Charles Zogby.  He noted again there are other sources of funding for these kinds of projects.

Permit Decision Guarantee: In a response to questions from Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong), Dana Aunkst, Deputy Secretary for Field Operations, provided an overview of the Permit Decision Guarantee quarterly report issued last week.  Aunkst noted the department denied 1.31 percent before the Permit Decision Guarantee and after the Guarantee Program 1.36 percent.

Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund: Rep. Joseph Markosek (D-Allegheny), Minority Chair of the House Appropriations Committee, expressed concern about the complete phase-out of funding from the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax going into the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund over the next year.  Jeffrey Logan, DEP Deputy for Administration, said the Fund will receive a total of about $80 million in the current and next fiscal year and then the Fund will receive funding from Marcellus Shale drilling fees.  Logan said in FY 2014-15 the department should have about $30 million available to do hazardous sites clean-ups.  Secretary Krancer said he would work in a creative, bipartisan basis to deal with the issue if additional funding or program changes are needed in the future.

Climate Change: Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said he has found no statements from Gov. Corbett and Secretary Krancer on the issue.  He asked if the Administration supported the 2010 statement from the National Academy of Sciences on climate change.
Secretary Krancer said market-based solutions have worked to reduced climate changing emissions.  He said the use of Pennsylvania’s natural gas reduces carbon emissions as does the state’s program to encourage natural gas-fueled vehicles.  He also noted the refineries in the Southeast are being retooled to use a different crude oil which will reduce carbon emissions.
Secretary Krancer said the United States has reduced more carbon emissions than any other nation in the world as a result of market-based solutions.  He added about one-third of Pennsylvania’s electric generating capacity is nuclear-fueled which has no carbon emissions.
He said several times the issue is “global warming” not “American warming.”
Later in the hearing, Secretary Krancer said he was ready to give members comments from Gov. Corbett on climate change, but was not given the opportunity.

Climate Change II: Rep. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) also asked if Secretary Krancer agrees global warming is occurring.  Secretary Krancer said he enforces the laws and regulations of the agency and makes sure permit applications meet those laws and regulations.  He said discussing whether or not global warming is happening was not “fruitful.”
Secretary Krancer did say lower carbon emissions are a good thing and address issues scientists are concerned about.
Asked about the climate impacts of solar energy, Secretary Krancer agreed solar panels themselves reduce carbon emissions, but pointed out there may be concerns about the impacts of the lifecycle of making solar panels.  He noted after 40 years of subsidies, wind and solar energy are still only about 2 percent of electric generation.
Secretary Krancer said he would have concerns about additional solar energy mandates because they are not market-based.  He said mandates in this area may also act as disincentives for making other changes to baseload electric generation facilities.

PA Sunshine Program Expansion: Rep. Vitali asked if DEP supported expansion of the PA Sunshine Solar Program.  In response, Secretary Krancer said he would prefer to have the market-based solutions to energy generation.

Natural Gas Pipelines: Rep. Scott Petri (R-Bucks) said natural gas pipeline developers are having a hard time getting the easements needed for pipeline routes to get natural gas from where it is developed to where it’s needed.  Secretary Krancer said DEP has no role in obtaining easements; that’s up to the pipeline companies.  The role DEP has is to make sure pipeline companies meet all applicable environmental standards.  Rep. Petri said the issue is something the General Assembly should look into to get this cheaper fuel to market.

Pipeline Safety: Rep. Karen Boback (R-Columbia) asked who regulates natural gas pipeline siting and pipeline safety.  Secretary Krancer said the Public Utility Commission handles pipeline safety issues, but DEP regulates erosion and sedimentation and stream crossings involved in pipeline construction through permits.

Natural Gas Air Emissions: Rep. Deberah Kula (D-Fayette) asked what the goals of DEP’s new permit reducing air emissions from natural gas compressor stations and other sources were.  Secretary Krancer said the inventory of natural gas industry air emissions show they are a minor source of air pollution in the state.  In addition, the substitution of natural gas for coal in generating electricity has resulted in significant reduction in air pollution with an estimate of $14 to $37 billion in air quality benefits.

Control Of Drilling Site Air Emissions: Rep. Kula asked about the status of  “green completion” or the control of methane emissions from Marcellus Shale drilling sites through flaring.      Secretary Krancer said the new federal regulations covering some aspects of natural gas development activities are in force in Pennsylvania automatically as a result of state law.  He would check to determine the extent of the practice in the state.

Drilling Water Testing: Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-Allegheny) asked about DEP’s policy on sharing all the information it has for landowners on testing well water related to drilling operations raised by Rep. Jesse White (D-Washington).  Secretary Krancer referred to his written responses to Rep. White.

Water Sampling Training: Rep. Wheatley asked if DEP trained its staff to take water samples, saying it has come to his attention DEP did not train it staff in taking samples.  Secretary Krancer said he would provide the Committee with the training staff receives.

Marcellus Shale Water Quality Oversight: Rep. Gary Day (R-Berks) asked about the status of DEP’s oversight efforts involving water quality and drilling operations as well as the disclosure of frack water components.  Secretary Krancer referred Rep. Day to his testimony before Congress on regulating the Marcellus Shale industry.  He also said Pennsylvania was one of the first states to have a medical disclosure requirement for frack water.

Newark Basin Drilling Moratorium: Rep. Matthew Bradford (D-Montgomery) asked how DEP has been involved in the study required under the Newark Basin moratorium on natural gas drilling in Southeast Pennsylvania enacted as part of the Fiscal Code last year.  Secretary Krancer said the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources handles that study.

Missing Drilling Fee Income: Rep. Bradford asked about the issues raised by a recent Canadian study saying Pennsylvania missed out on revenue from unconventional gas drilling operations.  Secretary Krancer said the author of the study was wrong in his understanding of unconventional natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and in interpreting the Act 13 drilling fee law enacted last year.

Air Pollution Fees: Rep. Kula asked if DEP was proposing new air pollution fees which Secretary Krancer confirmed.  He said the fee increases were needed because of the reduction in air pollution in the state and will fund the administrative costs of the Title V air quality permits.

Doing More To Help Business: Rep. Seth Grove (R-York) asked if there is something more DEP can do to help small businesses get permits and to comply with environmental regulations like the Ridge Administration did.  Secretary Krancer said recent actions for Delta and the Carlyle Group in the re-opening of refineries in the Southeast and the Homer City power plant prove DEP does help businesses in the permit process.  He encouraged Rep. Grove to bring those expressing that concern to his office.

Recycling Grants: Rep. Grove asked if recycling setup and performance grants can be changed to block grants to counties for recycling programs and whether recycling is important to the agency.  Secretary Krancer said recycling is important to the department and called attention to the recent Recycling Industries Congress held in the Capitol Building.

West Nile Control: Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre) asked about the status of West Nile Control efforts and spraying last year.  Secretary Krancer said the weather last year made spraying efforts more difficult, but there were a record number of acres sprayed by mosquitoes last year-- 93,000.

A copy of Secretary Krancer’s written testimony is available online.

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