Monday, February 24, 2020

DCNR Budget Hearing: DCNR’s Continuing Use Of Oil & Gas Fund Monies For Admin. Costs Questioned, After Court Ruling Prohibited The Practice

At the February 24 House hearing on DCNR’s budget request, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, questioned DCNR’s continuing practice of using Oil and Gas Fund monies to pay for administrative costs.
Rep. Vitali said the PA Environmental Defense Foundation won a PA Supreme Court ruling in 2017 prohibiting the use of monies derived from natural gas drilling on DCNR State Forest land and deposited into the Oil and Gas Fund from being used to pay for personnel and other costs normally covered by General Fund monies.  [Click Here for more.]
He noted the original language establishing the Fund talked about its use for conservation projects, but he did not consider administrative costs as “projects.”
He said about $70 million is coming into the Fund this coming year and about $69 million is going out of the Fund to pay administrative costs and $18.7 million is being transferred to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund.
DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said revenue going into the Oil and Gas Fund is down this year because of the depressed price of natural gas.  In addition, drilling on State Forest land has slowed to the point where there may be only one or two drilling rigs working on new wells that yield more production and more revenues.
In total, Secretary Dunn said, only about 35 percent of the land already leased for natural gas drilling has been developed and drillers are not in a hurry to develop the remaining leased areas.
Secretary Dunn said she agreed with the 2017 ruling, but one difference is the monies from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund that were part of the original case were transferred out of DCNR to the General Fund.
She said the monies now being used from the Fund are staying within DCNR’s conservation programs, although they are being used to pay administrative costs.
Secretary Dunn said the courts are still considering the issues surrounding the use of the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and they will, at some point, work out the details of how it can be used.  [Click Here for more.]
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, asked whether DCNR has the same position the Game Commission does on banning windmill projects on their lands.
Secretary Dunn said DCNR does not have the legal authority to lease State Forest or Park land for windmills, beyond for windmills to serve their own facilities.
Rep. Metcalfe also expressed a concern about funding being used to buy new public lands when DCNR clearly does not have the money to take care of the facilities they have.
Secretary Dunn said the budget contains about $12 million to support local land trust purchases of land for conservation purposes and DCNR does use some funding to purchase in-holdings and other priority properties.
In other words, there was very little new in the budget hearing.
Future budget hearings on environmental programs are scheduled for--
February 26 - House Hearing: 1:00 - Dept. of Agriculture;
March 2 - Senate Hearing: 10:00 - Dept. of Agriculture;
March 3 - Senate Hearing: 1:00 - Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources;
March 4 - Senate Hearing: 10:00 - Dept. of Environmental Protection.
     For more information on state parks and forests and recreation in Pennsylvania, visit DCNR’s website, Click Here to sign up for the Resource newsletter, Visit the Good Natured DCNR Blog,  Click Here for upcoming events, Click Here to hook up with DCNR on other social media-- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.
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[Posted: February 24, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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