Citing concerns for public safety, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) Tuesday voiced his opposition to House Republicans’ $8.9 million cut to the Department of Environmental Protection in their proposed 2017-2018 budget, which passed the House by a vote of 114 to 84.
“The gross underfunding of the DEP continues to put the public at risk,” Rep. Vitali said. “The DEP has already been warned by the federal government that it is not adequately staffed to enforce safe drinking water, air quality and pollution standards. Since 2002, state funding for the DEP has been cut by about 40 percent, leading to staff being reduced by 600 positions. These proposed cuts will only serve to further endanger the health and lives of the people of Pennsylvania.”
Rep. Vitali said these cuts are particularly dangerous as the DEP struggles to meet its minimum enforcement obligations.
According to a letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DEP has failed to conduct the minimum number of sanitary surveys of water systems, has a severely understaffed Air Quality Monitoring Division and has failed to meet required inspection compliance rates among other issues caused by understaffing of the agency.
Last March the U.S. Department of the Interior warned DEP that it had an insufficient number of Surface Mining Compliance Inspectors. DEP’s failure to inspect its surface coal mines with sufficient frequency has increased the risk of pollution to rivers, stream and wetlands as well as private water wells and springs. A lack of inspectors and proper oversight also places the lives of miners at risk.
“Protecting the lives of Pennsylvanians should always be a top priority for our government officials,” Rep. Vitali said. “It is alarming that regulators have not been able to keep up with the minimum requirements of checking community water supplies once every three years and once every five years for non-community water supplies.”
Even when violations are found, the EPA says thousands are going unaddressed due to insufficient DEP staffing levels. In the past five years, unaddressed Safe Drinking Water Act Violations have nearly doubled from 4,298 to 7,922.
Rep. Vitali says the cuts to the DEP make little fiscal sense in addition to putting communities at risk. According to the EPA, if the DEP does not start meeting its obligations soon, they may lose primacy in enforcing the Clean Drinking Water Act, taking away millions of federal dollars and the state’s control over enforcement.
The Republican budget bill-- House Bill 218 (Saylor- R-York)-- now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Related Story:House Republicans Pass Budget Proposal With Across-The-Board Cuts… Again