Thursday, July 17, 2014

Secretary Abruzzo: I’ll Continue To Advocate For An Increase In DEP’s Budget

DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo told the DEP Citizens Advisory Council Tuesday he was very grateful for the $11.5 million increase in DEP’s FY 2014-15 budget this year and said he would continue to advocate for an increase in DEP’s budget because of the critical work done by the agency.
“While other agencies were asked to tread water, we received an increase,” said Secretary Abruzzo. “I will ask for another increase next year and continue to advocate for growth in DEP’s budget.”
DEP was required to give up an additional 55 vacancies in the new budget, bringing the total DEP complement to 2,708 of which 2,490 positions are filled.  In 2002-03, DEP had a complement of 3,211 with about 3,000 of those positions filled, but that was before Gov. Rendell cut DEP’s budget and staff significantly.  The agency is just now trying to recover from those cuts.
In response to a letter from the Council in May urging a major review of the Act 537 onlot sewage program, Secretary Abruzzo invited Council and the Sewage Advisory Committee to appoint members to a small work group to develop recommendations on improving the use of so-called alternative onlot sewage technologies and integrating them into the sewage planning process.
Council appointed Tim Weston, Thad Stevens and Janet Keim to the group and the Sewage Advisory Committee said they would also appoint members.
Presentations To Council
Council heard several presentations on a variety of issues at the meeting, including--
-- Ellen Shultzabarger, DCNR Divisions of Conservation Science & Ecological Resources, provided an overview of improvements planned for the PA Natural Heritage Program’s online environmental permit and conservation planning tools.
NatureServe has been retained by DCNR to provide significant updates to the PNDI online tools building on its work for other states.  Shultzabarger said they expect to roll out the changes in earlier 2015 and provide training on the new system to users.
When completed, Shultzabarger said, the updated tools will be the most advanced in the United States.
DCNR declined to discuss how the endangered species and natural resource information they have will be used to evaluate the new non-impact natural gas drilling the agency must undertake as part of the approved FY 2014-15 budget.
-- Dennis Whitaker, DEP Chief Counsel, provided an update on the court ruling in December declaring some portions of the Act 13 drilling law unconstitutional and a violation of Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment.
Whitaker said, although Payne vs. Kassab is still the controlling decision in considering Environmental Rights Amendment issues because the Act 13 ruling was by a plurality of the justices on the PA Supreme Court, DEP has formed work groups in each of its programs to determine where they might need changes to meet the requirements laid out in the Amendment.
He said he anticipates those reviews will be complete in September based on a checklist developed by his office.
On the Act 13 case itself, Whitaker said Commonwealth Court held a hearing in May on the issues remanded to the Court by the PA Supreme Court, but no further rulings have been made.
He said so far fewer than 20 new appeals have been made to the Environmental Hearing Board using the Act 13 case as part of the appeal.
-- Vince Brisini, Deputy Secretary for Waste, Air, Radiation and Remediation, provided an update to Council on EPA’s proposed climate change rule and its impact on existing Pennsylvania coal-fired power plants.
Brisini said the EPA gives states, in particular, Pennsylvania less flexibility in developing a plan to reduce carbon emissions than press statements by EPA would suggest because it includes methods, such as increasing nuclear generation, which states cannot control.
Under EPA’s proposed rule, he said EPA projects coal-fired generation of electricity in Pennsylvania would be reduced from using 43.4 million tons of coal in 2005 to just 10.5 million tons in 2030.  
He noted, however, that if natural gas continues to be substituted for coal in electric generation as it has been in the last few years and the price of gas stays at about $4/MMBus, the use of coal would probably be reduced to about the same levels as EPA projects anyway, even without the climate change rule.  Click Here for more information on natural gas prices.
Public Comments
Bonita Hoke, Executive Director of the League of Women Voters of PA, provided the only remarks during  Council’s public comment period suggesting the need to improve environmental permit reviews for endangered species, expressed the League’s opposition to additional natural gas drilling in State Parks and Forests and urged action on reducing greenhosue gas emissions leading to climate change.
The next meeting of the Citizens Advisory Council is September 16.
For more information, visit the DEP Citizens Advisory Council webpage.

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