Thursday, February 20, 2020

House Holds Hearings With DEP, DCNR Feb. 24 On A Budget Request That Primarily Repairs Damage Done Last Year; Promises More

DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell and DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn will be answering questions about Gov. Wolf’s FY 2020-21 budget requests for their agencies on February 24 in hearings before the House Appropriations Committee, at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. respectively.
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding will appear before the House Committee at 1:00 p.m. on February 26 to be questioned on the budget request for his agency. 
Click Here to Watch House Hearings Live.  Click Here for House Republican hearing videos/written testimony
DEP Performance Budget Report
For the first time, the Appropriations Committees will have an Independent Fiscal Office Performance Budget Report on DEP to help evaluate questions about permit review times, compliance rates for industries and the cost to operate programs. 
That report shows on time permit reviews for the six major permit programs in DEP range from 86 percent of the time to 99 percent of the time, including clean water (86 percent) safe drinking water (86 percent), oil and gas (97 percent), waterways and wetlands (92 percent), mining (88 percent) and waste management (99 percent) programs.
Compliance rates for industries vary from-- 99.8 percent for clean water facilities, 99.8 percent for waterways and wetlands, 97. 3 percent for waste facilities, 96 percent for unconventional oil and gas facilities, 89 percent for mining facilities and 86 percent for safe drinking water facilities thanks to DEP’s inspection and compliance systems.
The IFO also noted there has been “significant productivity gains” in permit review times and inspections since DEP began transitioning to electronic permitting and inspection systems.
The report highlighted several challenges--
-- Water System Violations: Compared to other states, a high share of Pennsylvania residents received water from a community water system with an acute health-based violation in recent years.
-- Abandoned Mine Legacy: Pennsylvania’s legacy of coal mining and oil and natural gas drilling represents a significant challenge for the department.
-- Chesapeake Bay Lagging: Pennsylvania lags behind other states in Chesapeake Bay Watershed pollution reduction
Wolf’s Budget Proposal
As a refresher, on February 4, Gov. Tom Wolf proposed an FY 2020-21 state budget that restores many of the cuts made to environmental funding in last year’s budget, and frees up more than $43 million in funding for community-based farm conservation, watershed restoration and recreation projects.
The budget also proposes a $1/ton increase in the municipal waste tipping fee to provide $22.6 million to fund Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund in addition to $18.7 million transferred from the Act 13 Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund (which includes $15 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund).
The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund deals with PFAS contamination and other hazardous substance cleanups.
It also supports adding additional staff to address critical environmental protection programs, including Air Quality, to implement the Chesapeake Bay Clean Water Plan and for State Parks and Forest operations.
The budget uses the $45 million in supplemental funding authorizations for DEP and DCNR in FY 2019-20 to backfill many of the General Fund cuts and cuts in environmental project funding made in the FY 2019-20 state budget.
As previously announced, the Governor is also pushing for enactment of the $4.5 billion Restore Pennsylvania Infrastructure Plan, a new $1.1 billion Lead and Asbestos Hazards Abatement Program and pipeline safety legislation.
For the first time in a decade, the FY 2020-21 General Fund budget for DEP is proposed to be funded above 1994-95 levels. 
The proposal provides $171.6 million in General Fund support for DEP, above where it was in 1994-95-- $165.6 million.
If the General Fund appropriation from 1994-95 had just kept up with inflation with no other increase, the appropriation to DEP would now be $285.67 million.  
The proposal again calls for the estimated $20 million in debt service payment for the Growing Greener II bond issue to come from General Fund revenues and not from the Environmental Stewardship Fund.
Moving forward, the FY 2020-21 proposal puts about $7.26 million in funding for conservation districts and regional water agencies like the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basin Commission back on the General Fund rather than taking it out of the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund.
These moves would free up about $27.26 million in funding for community-based watershed restoration, recreation and other environmental improvements.
$4.5 Billion Restore PA Proposal - Again
Gov. Tom Wolf vowed to continue his fight to fund Pennsylvania’s critical infrastructure needs with Restore Pennsylvania supported by a new severance tax on natural gas production.
First unveiled as part of last year’s budget, the bipartisan proposal is still the only plan presented in the Commonwealth that can aggressively fund broadband, flooding, recreation, environmental restoration and other critical infrastructure projects.  Click Here for more.
$1.1 Billion Lead, Asbestos Initiative 
Gov. Tom Wolf announced a series of proposed 2020-21 budget items totaling more than $1.1 billion to support reducing the risks to Pennsylvanians of lead and asbestos, and remediating existing toxins in schools, day care centers, homes, and public water systems. Click Here for more.
Pipeline Safety Legislation
The budget calls for action on legislation to address pipeline safety, including setback proposals, to provide information and leak response advice to schools or childcare centers in close proximity to a pipeline, and notifications to residents and municipalities in advance of drilling by pipeline companies.  Click Here for more.
Gov. Wolf issued a similar call for action in February, 2019.  Click Here for more.
Reaction To The Budget
On February 5, seventeen member groups of the Growing Greener Coalition released a statement saying while they are “heartened” by Gov. Wolf’s budget proposal, “there is a tremendous backlog of environmental infrastructure needs requiring the state’s attention and demanding much higher levels of investment.”
Those needs include-
-- 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams are unsafe for drinking, swimming, fishing, and boating.
-- State parks and forests require nearly $1 billion in necessary repairs.
-- More than 200,000 acres of abandoned mine lands and thousands of brownfield sites pollute our water and threaten human health and safety
-- The list goes on.
“The Coalition urges Senators, Representatives, and the Governor to recognize that these real challenges require action-- whether that’s via the Governor’s Restore PA proposal or some other vehicle. 
“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to safe water and preservation of the natural environment. It is also, plain and simple, the right thing to do.”
“The partner organizations of the Growing Greener Coalition are encouraged that Governor Wolf’s executive budget upholds Pennsylvania’s traditional state investments in projects that protect water, conserve land, and enhance outdoor recreation. 
“With the Governor’s budget:
-- The Environmental Stewardship Fund (aka Growing Greener), established in 1999, will continue its tremendously successful support of tangible projects that protect and restore water quality, preserve farmland, and make other environmental improvements.
--  The Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, established in 1993 with nearly unanimous General Assembly support and overwhelming voter backing in a public referendum, will continue its extraordinarily effective investments in developing and improving parks and trails; protecting open spaces important to communities; and restoring libraries.
“The Governor’s budget also constructively addresses a number of other environmental funding matters: proposing to recapitalize the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund with a $1/ton fee increase on disposing of waste in landfills; a capital program to remediate lead and asbestos threats; and funding badly needed positions at the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.”
The letter was signed by wildlife, land trust, farmland conservation, environmental, recreation, park, forest and watershed groups.
Click Here for a copy of the full statement.   For more information, visit the Growing Greener Coalition website and learn how you can get involved.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA issued the following statement on Gov. Wolf's proposed budget from Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell
“Chesapeake Bay Foundation is pleased that, in the Governor’s budget proposal, the Environmental Stewardship Fund (ESF) would no longer be used to pay debt service on the Growing Greener Fund. Those extra ESF dollars can be spent to plant more trees, address acid mine drainage, and protect additional acres of productive farmland.
“We also see Governor Wolf’s plans to increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection as a positive step toward protecting and restoring water quality in Pennsylvania.
“Clean water is critical to the health, wellbeing, and quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. Unfortunately, according to scientific assessments by the state, roughly 40 percent of rivers and streams in the Commonwealth are considered to be polluted.
“While this budget would reinvest in critical agencies and programs if approved by the legislature, it remains unclear how the state will close the over $320 million shortfall in investments toward meeting its obligations to clean up Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams.
“Ultimately, it’s up to state lawmakers to ensure that the funding is there to assist Pennsylvania’s farms, families, and communities to restore and protect our land, water, and air.
“CBF looks forward to working with the Governor and legislators toward a legacy of clean water for future generations.”
Senate Hearings
The Senate Appropriations Committee will hold its hearings--
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.
Related Articles:
[Posted: February 20, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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