Thursday, June 15, 2017

DEP: PA House Republican Budget Will Delay Permit Review, Put Public Health At Risk

The Department of Environmental Protection Thursday warned cuts to environmental and public health programs in the proposed budget from House Republicans will slow down the permit reviews and could put air and water quality at risk.
These concerns were magnified Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said Senate Republicans were looking at “about the same” spend number as House Republicans.
The Independent Fiscal Office reported Thursday they project $32.49 billion in revenue will be available in FY 2017-18, which is nearly $1 billion more than the House Republican budget of $31.52 billion.
There is also the impact of proposed federal budget cuts on DEP’s programs to consider, if they become a reality.
In a May 30 letter to the chairmen of the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees, Secretary Patrick McDonnell outlined six key ways the proposed budget would impact public health, safety, and economic development.
“A spending cut of this magnitude -- unfocused and on top of the changes we have already proposed and the cuts we have received, including a reduction of 754 positions over the past decade -- would put Pennsylvania’s environmental and public health at risk,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
Among the impacts of the proposed across-the-board cuts in DEP’s budget would be:
-- Delayed Permit Reviews: Longer wait times for permit reviews, slowing down economic development and undercutting improvements that DEP has made to the permit review process
-- Fewer Water System Inspections: 600 fewer inspections of public water systems, which provide clean drinking water to 83 percent of the Commonwealth population;
-- Stifle PA’s Ability To Clean Up Chesapeake Bay Watershed: The Commonwealth recently kicked off a new process to develop the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan to meet the Commonwealth’s legal mandate to cleanup the Bay Watershed.  More resources, not fewer are needed to meet this obligation;
-- Fewer Inspections of Hazardous Dams: A 6.41 percent reduction in DEP’s budget will have a significant impact on the implementation of the statewide Dam Safety Program, including 800 high-hazard dams;
-- West Nile & Zika Virus Cuts: The House Republican budget would cut this item $338,000; and
-- Fewer Mine Inspectors: Fewer underground mine inspectors that ensure safe working conditions for Pennsylvania’s coal miners.
A fee package that would increase and implement new fees on public water systems has been introduced to fund additional staff for the program.
In December 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warned DEP that continued staff shortages and underinvestment in the program could lead to Pennsylvania losing primacy over the program.
Loss of primacy for the program would strip DEP’s authority to regulate drinking water, as well as remove millions of dollars of funds for communities to upgrade their safe drinking water facilities.
Proposed Federal Cuts
In addition to the cuts outlined in the letter, Secretary McDonnell noted that possible cuts to DEP’s budget from federal sources would further exacerbate these issues. Combined, funding cuts at the state and federal level would hamper infrastructure projects and the jobs that those projects create.
Along with the effects that funding cuts at the state level would cause, DEP also outlined the impacts of federal budget cuts in a letter to the Pennsylvania congressional delegation.
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