Tuesday, March 1, 2016

House Budget Hearing: DEP: State Can’t Cut Its Way To A Better Environment

In comments Tuesday to the House Appropriations Committee on DEP’s budget, DEP Secretary John Quigley said the state "can’t cut its way to improving the environment.”
Secretary Quigley said as a result 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.
Secretary Quigley said Pennsylvania also risks its delegation to administer federal environmental programs if the staffing issues are not addressed.  Having EPA’s inspectors going into Lebanon County last year to inspect farms is “a view of coming attractions.”
Secretary Quigley noted inadequate funding is requiring DEP to look at permit fee increases, including an increase in oil and gas permit fees because income from existing fees in that program have declined.
Secretary Quigley did announce DEP would be expanding its air quality monitoring network to 10 more counties covering the natural gas drilling areas of the state using federal funds to get better data on the air quality impacts of oil and gas development.
In response to a question on the diversity of DEP’s workforce, Secretary Quigley said that was a personal concern of his since only 7 percent of DEP’s staff comes from minority communities.  He said DEP is taking steps to recruit new employees from different areas of the state to improve its minority hiring.
Otherwise most of the questions asked by House Committee members were duplicates of the questions asked of Secretary Quigley in the Senate.
Those duplicate issues included: cuts in General Fund appropriations and staff; difficulties in reviewing permits affected by budget cuts and technically deficient permit applications coming to DEP for review; deficits coming in the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund; continuing with developing a Pennsylvania Plan to meet the EPA Clean Power Climate Plan requirements; inadequate resources to meet Pennsylvania’s own commitments to cleanup the water going to the Chesapeake Bay; concerns about how county conservation districts will be involved in the Chesapeake Bay Program Reboot; threats from and testing for lead poisoning; support for waste coal power plants and related reclamation; the proposed increase in the state waste disposal fee to go into DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund; the collapse of the electronic waste recycling program; a proposed Growing Greener III environmental funding program; and the role of private sector and new technologies in meeting water pollution reduction requirements.
Here is a quick summary of questions and answers for issues not raised in the Senate--
-- Most DEP Staff Cuts Made By Rendell Administration: Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said most of the cuts to DEP were made by the Rendell Administration, and asked why the Governor’s budget request does not do more to restore more of DEP’s funding.  He also noted the Governor’s Budget Office announced a freeze in hiring for 200 more vacant DEP positions.  Secretary Quigley said DEP’s cuts have occurred over the Rendell and Corbett Administrations and he is working with the Governor’s Budget Office to “created some space” on the hiring freeze.  He said DEP’s proposed budget is enough, given that the Governor is trying to deal with a $2 billion structural deficit.
Rep. Maher said it didn’t make sense to complain about the lack of resources when an increase was not proposed in the Governor’s budget.
-- DEP Written Up By Federal Agencies For Insufficient Staff: In response to a question by Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, on budget cuts, 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.  For example, in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Air Quality and Water Quality programs and by the federal Office of Surface Mining for surface mine regulation.  In Water Quality Programs DEP has been written up five times.  In the Chesapeake Bay Program EPA “marched in” to Lebanon County to inspect farms, because DEP did not have enough resources for that program.  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.
In response to a follow-up question from Rep. Leslie Acosta (D-Philadelphia), Secretary Quigley said Pennsylvania risks its delegation to administer federal environmental programs if the staffing issues are not addressed.  Having EPA’s inspectors going into Lebanon County to inspect farms like they did last year is “a view of coming attractions.”
-- Oil & Gas Permit Fees/Increases: Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) asked if DEP is still getting the same amount of revenue from oil and gas permit fees given the downturn in the drilling industry.  Secretary Quigley said there has been a 33 percent reduction in income from permit fees, but the cost of the program remains.  He said DEP may have to look at increasing those fees because the program is entirely supported by that source of revenue.  Secretary Quigley 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.
-- Budget Impasse Impact On DEP: In response to a question from Rep. Sue Helm (R-Dauphin), Secretary Quigley said the budget impasse did not prevent DEP from responding to emergencies because those were related to public health and safety.  The main impact, he said, was the ban on travel by staff.  He did note in at least one circumstance there was a lot of “back and forth” with a landlord for a facility rented by DEP, but that was later resolved.
-- Plugging Abandoned Gas Wells: In response to a question from Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong), Secretary Quigley said DEP still has an abandoned well plugging program, but Pennsylvania has an inventory of 12,000 abandoned wells with known locations.  Secretary Quigley said there may be as many as 200,000 abandoned wells in oil and gas areas most without known locations.  Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny) asked, in a follow-up, how often DEP inspects these abandoned wells “it owns” compared to privately-owned wells.  Secretary Quigley noted DEP deals with problems with abandoned wells as it can with the resources it has.
-- Fixing Chesapeake Bay Model/Federal Bay Funding: Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny) repeated some of the questions he asked at the joint House Environmental and Agriculture Committees information meeting Monday on the Chesapeake Bay Model and proposed cuts in federal funding for the Bay.  Secretary Quigley said they will be pursuing changes to the Chesapeake Bay Model to make it reflect more of Pennsylvania’s reality.  On funding, Secretary Quigley said whether it is the state or the federal government “you can’t cut your way to improving the environment,” and he would share with Rep. Maher any correspondence he has with the federal government on its budget cuts.
-- Leasing Submerged Land To Gas Companies: In response to a question from Rep. Fred Keller (R-Snyder), Secretary Quigley said when he was DCNR Secretary he discovered natural gas drilling companies were trespassing on state-owned land under rivers and streams in the Commonwealth and not paying for their use of those lands.  As a result, he required drilling companies to pay for the right to use the Commonwealth’s submerged lands through a lease.  [Note: This is a DCNR program.]
-- Status Of Air Quality In Pennsylvania/More Monitors: Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia), noting she was a member of the Mom’s Clean Air Task Force, asked about the status of air quality in Pennsylvania and commented meeting the EPA Clean Power Climate Rule was critical.  Secretary Quigley said air quality has been improving across Pennsylvania, but with changing federal clean air standards there are challenges.  He noted DEP will be expanding DEP’s air monitoring network to 10 Marcellus Shale drilling counties to learn more about what is happening to air quality in those areas using federal funds.  Secretary Quigley said, however, “all roads lead back to staffing” and DEP has not had enough Air Quality staff to do all things that need to be done in the program.
-- Role Of Nuclear Power In Meeting EPA’s Clean Power Climate Rule: Rep. Tom Killion (R-Delaware) asked what role nuclear power plants will play going forward in meeting the EPA Clean Power Climate Rule.  Secretary Quigley said nuclear power represents 95 percent of Pennsylvania’s carbon-free electric generation and that it must be an important part of Pennsylvania’s plan to meet the requirements of EPA’s Clean Power Climate Rule.
-- Zika Virus-Carrying Mosquito Control:  Rep. Maria Donatucci (D-Montgomery) asked about the need to control the mosquito that carries Zika Virus since DEP implements the West Nile Virus Program.   Secretary Quigley said the mosquito that carries the Zika Virus has not been found in Pennsylvania since 2002.  If more mosquito control is needed, there would need to be more resources provided.  Secretary Quigley explained the mosquito that carries the Zika Virus a daytime mosquito and the West Nile Virus-carrying mosquitoes are nighttime mosquitoes, so a different approach is need to be taken to control, if that would be needed in the future.
-- Diversity In DEP Workforce: Rep. Donna Bullock (D-Philadelphia) asked about diversity in DEP’s workforce.  Secretary Quigley said he recognizes DEP is behind the curve on diversity; only about 7 percent of the DEP workforce is from minority groups.  He said DEP is expanding DEP’s recruitment to colleges where there is likely there will be candidates with the appropriate scientific and engineering backgrounds.  He also said DEP and the Governor’s Office are in the process of increasing internship opportunities in his agency and others.
A copy of Secretary Quigley’s written budget testimony is available online.
This concludes Senate and House budget hearings on the proposed FY 2016-17 DEP and DCNR budgets.
A video of this House Budget hearing will be posted on the House Republican website. The Senate budget hearings are available on the Senate Republican website.
Wolf Administration Criticized For Freeze On Hiring
Related Stories:
DEP Tells House Committees Chesapeake Bay Program Faces Inadequate Resources, Data

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