Friday, August 4, 2017

PA Environmental Council: Budget Deal, A Bad Solution To The Wrong Problem

The PA Environmental Council Monday posted this statement on the budget deal that saw environmental provisions unrelated to funding the state budget stuck in a variety of code bills—
The Pennsylvania Senate and, by all appearances, Governor Wolf, have struck a deal that aims to mitigate the Commonwealth’s fiscal issues at the sole expense of environmental protections.
What have they done?
Essentially, they have proposed to nullify the Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to review and act on applications to alter the state’s air, land, and water by taking the decision away from DEP professionals and, in many cases, farming that responsibility out to private firms.
They have done this without public discussion and without setting ground rules. And, despite a supposed increase in conservation and environmental funding, the reality is that these programs actually take a big hit.
For more on those implications see our earlier post here.
Are there issues with some of DEP’s permit programs? Absolutely – which is why the department has been taking a hard look at those programs, where the issues are, and what structural solutions might be available.
(To hear DEP Chief Counsel Alex Chiaruttini talk about this, please listen to her comments here.)
PEC agrees that a review of the permitting process is necessary, but only if it includes all interested parties – the regulated community as well as the public – and addresses the repeated hits to DEP’s budget over the last two decades.
When the department’s effectiveness has been systematically undermined for so long, it is irresponsible to simply privatize many of its functions without talking about how that is done, or even considering the additional costs.
It is probably also unconstitutional, given the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s recent opinions dealing with our Environmental Rights Amendment.
Bottom line – we need to have discussions about how the permitting process works and about getting DEP the support that it requires. What we don’t need is the further erosion of the state’s responsibilities to its citizens.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Visit PEC’s Audio Room for the latest podcasts.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.
AP: Budget/Staff Cuts Caused DEP Permit Review Problems
Marc Levy of the Associated Press Saturday wrote a story-- Senate Jams Shale Tax, Industry Permits Into Unhappy Package-- that summarizes part of the Senate-passed revenue package dealing with the natural gas severance tax and sweeping changes to all of DEP’s permitting programs.
But at the end of the story, a comment by Dan Weaver, President of the PA Independence Oil and Gas Association, put a spotlight on the key issue behind permit review problems at DEP--
"So tell me how they're supposed to get their permits through on an expedited basis if they have less money and less staff? And here they go and cut their budget further. Doesn't that exacerbate the problem?"
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