Here are 10 things we learned from Senate and House budget hearings--
1. We Can’t Cut Our Way To A Better Environment. DEP Secretary John Quigley said the state “can’t cut its way to improving the environment.” Because of “relentless budget cuts,” DEP has lost 14 percent of its staff, but the average state agency lost 6 percent over the last decade. As a result, Secretary Quigley said, the capacity of his agency has been significantly degraded. Any further cuts, he said, would put the public’s health and the environment at risk.
2. Primacy For Federal Environmental Programs Is At Risk: Secretary Quigley said DEP has been written up repeatedly by federal agencies for insufficient staffing in programs for which it has primacy for administering federal programs. Having EPA’s inspectors related to the Chesapeake Bay Program going into Lebanon County last year to inspect farms is “a view of coming attractions.” He added the Safe Drinking Water Program has seen a 25 percent reduction in staff. DEP missed the deadline for making a key submission on EPA’s new federal ozone standard because it did not have enough staff. He said DEP has been unable to keep accreditation for its mobile labs and the accreditation for its primary laboratory facility is in doubt because of staffing shortfalls. Secretary Quigley said it is a testament to the hard work of DEP’s employees that they continue to do the good work they do in spite of this lack of resources.
3. Permit Fee Increases Needed To Support DEP Regulatory Programs: Secretary Quigley said there has been a 33 percent reduction in income from oil and gas well permit fees because of the industry downturn, but the cost of the program remains. He said the need for revenue is not reduced by a decrease in new permits because the agency is not inspecting conventional and unconventional wells nearly enough, perhaps only half as much, as they need to be. DEP’s Regulatory Agenda shows it will propose permit fee increases in at least 6 programs this year.
4. PA Has Inadequate Resources/Data To Meet Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Commitments: DEP Secretary John Quigley said Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Cleanup Program is all about improving local water quality, but has been faced with inadequate resources and data on conservation practices to do its job. Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said the same thing during his budget hearing.
5. Using Surplus Monies From Special Funds To Pay DEP Costs: Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said “a bunch” of DEP special funds will be “underwater” in the near future and many of them are for very important programs. He mentioned the Clean Water and Radiation Protection funds. Secretary Quigley said the Storage Tank Fund will be out of money in mid-2017 and the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund in mid-2018. Sen. Browne said other DEP funds do have money and could be looked at to support other programs and looked forward to working with DEP on those issues.
6. PUC Asks For More Rail, Pipeline Inspectors: Public Utility Commission Chair Gladys Brown said the PUC’s FY 2016-17 budget request includes the hiring of two additional rail safety inspectors and two additional pipeline inspectors.
7. $60 Million Decline In Gas Royalties Requires New Funding To Keep DCNR’s Lights On: DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said a $60 million decline in royalties from Marcellus Shale drilling on State Forest lands will require additional General Fund monies be appropriated to the agency to pay its people and keep the lights on. She said there are no drill rigs on State Forest land now drilling on the existing leases due to the industry downturn.
8. Use Keystone Fund Increases To Pay DCNR Administrative Costs: Sen. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe) suggested the $8.6 million increase in Keystone Fund monies be used instead of the General Fund increase requested by DCNR to offset less revenue from natural gas royalties. Secretary Dunn said what is needed is more revenues in the budget. The Keystone Fund is now used for specific purposes and not for covering operating costs.
9. DEP To Continue Work On EPA Clean Power Climate Rule: Secretary Quigley said DEP is planning to continue working with stakeholders on the development of a Pennsylvania Plan to meet the EPA rule because one of the outcomes of the federal court challenge could be to meet the existing compliance schedule. He said it is worth a “deep-dive” on the issue, because that is the safest option. At the same time, Secretary Quigley said it is unlikely DEP will be submitting a Plan to EPA before the legal challenges are decided. He added, alternative/renewable energy and using Pennsylvania’s cleaner natural gas is the future and those trends will continue irrespective of what happens to EPA’s rule.
10. Increasing Sequestration Of Carbon In State Forests: Secretary Dunn said DCNR has a goal to sequester an additional 750,000 tons (annual accumulation) of carbon in state forests. In 2015, she said, DCNR sequestered an additional 150,000 tons.
To re-live the excitement of the budget hearings: Click Here for audio and video of the Senate budget hearings. Click Here for video of the House hearings.
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