Tuesday, May 17, 2016

DEP Environmental Laboratory Nearly Shut Down During State Budget Impasse

Dr. Martina McGarvey, Director of the Bureau of Laboratories, told DEP’s Citizen Advisory Council Tuesday the agency’s laboratory had its natural gas cut off briefly during the state budget impasse because the lab’s landlord was not paid for six months.
The laboratory, which analyses critical environmental enforcement and monitoring samples, was not considered a critical service of the Commonwealth.  Dr. McGarvey said ultimately the issue was worked out with the landlord.
Dr. McGarvey made the comments during presentation to the CAC on the impact of state budget cuts and staff on DEP’s laboratory.
Since 2011 the lab staffing went from 76 to 56 people as a result of cuts.
One of the biggest impacts of these cuts, Dr. McGarvey said, was the loss of lab accreditation for 3 of DEP’s 4 mobile laboratories that conduct field investigations on the site of environmental enforcement or emergency cases.
She noted a 2011 Association of Public Hill Laboratories evaluation of the lab rated its capabilities as exceptional and excellent.  A follow-up evaluation by APHL this year found that evaluation slipped to adequate, although the lab was still recognized for high quality work and the integrity of its results.
The 2016 report made a number of recommendations, among them were--
-- Returning staffing to 2011 levels which would require an additional $2 million in General Fund money; and
-- Pursue designation by the Commonwealth as a critical asset that cannot be shut down in event of budget impasse.
Dr. McGarvey said the lab is also cross-training its staff to do several different kinds of testing since they do not have the staff to be specialized in one area.
In response to a question from Council, she said they have investigated the use of commercial labs to do some of their work, but that would also cost money.
Dr. McGarvey said she believes they are cost competitive with private labs and noted, “We are protecting the public from private interests and while private labs may have the capabilities, they may not have the necessary accountability.”
Future CAC Meetings
CAC Chair Bill Fink outlined some topics to be covered in upcoming meetings of the Council, including on June 21 a presentation by DEP on the latest Integrated Water Quality Management Report (the last report was in 2014 and the new report may include a recommendation on impairment of the lower Susquehanna River) and a report from the U.S. Geological Survey on water quality testing in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
For its July 19 meeting, the Council will hear a presentation on and tour the City of Lancaster’s Green Infrastructure Program designed to meet the MS4 Stormwater Water Quality Management Program.
For more information, visit the DEP’s Citizen Advisory Council webpage or contact Katie Hetherington Cunfer, Citizens Advisory Council, by calling 717-705-2693 or send email to: khethering@pa.gov.
Related Story:
DCNR: PA Must Install 95K Acres Of Stream Buffers In 9 Years To Meet Chesapeake Bay Commitments

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