Monday, February 22, 2021

House Budget Hearing Fails To Address A Single Critical Budget Issue Faced By DEP Or DCNR

The February 22 House Appropriation Committee on the FY 2021-22 budget request for the Department of Environmental Protection resulted in no discussion of critical funding issues faced by the agency.

Questions from members did result in this news--

-- Delaware Watershed Ban On One Type Of Natural Gas Drilling: DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said he will be voting yes to ban one type of natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed when the Delaware River Basin Commission meets February 25.  Read more here.

-- Recycling Grants: Secretary McDonnell said DEP may be able to again accept applications for grants to support local recycling programs later this year, but at a reduced rate of funding.  On January 23, DEP announced it had canceled the next round of grants for the first time in the Recycling Program’s 33 year history [Read more here]; the General Assembly took $50 million from the Recycling Fund to balance the state budget reducing available funds.

-- DEP Has 8.8 Percent Vacancy Rate In Positions: Secretary McDonnell said DEP has an unusually high 8.8 percent vacancy rate-- over 200 positions in a complement of about 2,513-- due to staff turnover and retirements.  Normally vacancies run about two percent.  This is in addition to the fact budget cuts over the last few years have eliminated an estimated 30 percent of positions. 

There was no discussion of these issues--

-- Water Pollution Cleanup: A broad group of stakeholders found a minimum of $324 million is needed annually to fund the effort needed to meet Pennsylvania’s water pollution cleanup obligations just in the Commonwealth's portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Read more here. Double that for the whole state and add in much needed drinking water and wastewater system improvements [Read more here].

-- Protection From Flooding: There has been a 71 percent increase in very heavy precipitation days in the last 54 years putting over 831,000 people and thousands of businesses in all parts of the state at risk. Read more here. In 2018 alone, there was over $101.5 million in flood damage not covered by the federal government in Pennsylvania.  Read more here. The projections are Pennsylvania will experience 42 percent more days of extremely heavy precipitation in the next 25 years. Read more here.

-- Hazardous Sites Cleanup: DEP has been warning the state Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program was headed for a fiscal cliff for years; it’s now here, just when the state is facing more cleanups related to the PFAS/PFOS and other emerging contaminate problems. Read more here.

-- Transition to eDEP: To support improvement in permitting and inspection efficiencies, the future of DEP is clearly converting these processes to electronic systems. Efforts so far have not been comprehensive enough and they need support. Read more here.


Since the House Appropriations Committee has not scheduled a hearing on the FY 2021-22 budget request for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources they have not addressed any of DCNR’s critical funding issues.

There is a $1 billion backlog of maintenance and safety projects in State Parks and Forests.  Literally millions more Pennsylvanians flocked to State Parks and Forests for a respite from the COVID pandemic clearly showing their value.  Read more here.  And local and regional parks are in the same shape.


Republican members brought up the same questions they have other years--

-- Why is permit processing so slow?  Maybe because you cut DEP’s staff by 30 percent? or over half the permit applications submitted are incomplete or don’t meet standards and consultants take six weeks to correct their mistakes? [Read more here].

-- Opposition To Carbon Pollution Reduction Program Covering Power Plants: Went over again disagreements on statutory authority-- no you don’t, yes we do, carbon dioxide is a regulated air pollutant by EPA; tax versus auction fee-- it’s a fee; impact on jobs - coal plants are closing with or without this rule due to competition with natural gas not regulation; etc. 

-- Why isn’t DEP doing more to plug abandoned wells or working with industry to do it?  Because you don’t give DEP any more money to do it?  The industry is plugging a few wells each year.

-- What Assurance Do You Have PA Citizens “Aren’t Going To Die Like They Did In Texas?’ If PA Switches To Green Energy:  House Republican Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R-York) repeated a baseless natural gas industry claim frozen windmills were the cause of the devastating blackouts in Texas over the last week. He repeatedly cut Secretary McDonnell off when he tried to answer the question.  Read more here.

In fact, energy experts have said the electricity generation failures were largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines that limited supplies to natural gas-fired power plants and the freezing of feedwater systems to coal and nuclear power plants which makes up a significant portion of electricity generation in that state.  Read more here.

The other failure was by the Texas electrical grid operator to plan for these types of weather events and the fact the Texas grid is not connected to any other sources of electric generation outside the state.

Yes, windmills did freeze.  There were not required to be weatherized as they are in Pennsylvania and northern states. They make up about seven percent of the power supply in Texas.  Read more here.

Read a Reuters fact check article about the Texas situation.

Republicans offered no plans of their own to solve any of these problems.

Democrats supported the Carbon Pollution Reduction Program, asked about the latest in the state’s response to PFAS/PFOS contamination and on diversity in DEP’s workforce.

Click Here for a copy of DEP’s written testimony.

For the first time, DEP posted some of the detail background budget documents it submits to the General Assembly, including--

-- FY 2021-22: DEP Legislative Budget

-- FY 2021-22: DEP Request for Approval of Federal Funds

-- FY 2021-22: DEP Listing of Contracts and Grants

-- FY 2021-22: DEP Listing of Interagency Agreements and Memorandums of Understanding 

Click Here for the Budget Hearing Materials.

The House will hold a hearing on the Department of Agriculture’s budget request February 24 at 10:00 a.m.  No House hearing has been scheduled on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Click Here for videos of completed hearings.  

In the Senate, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hearing is March 9 at 10:00 a.m.; the Department of Environmental Protection on March 11 at 10:00 a.m. and the Department of Agriculture on April 8 at 2:00 p.m.

Click Here to watch Senate hearings liveClick Here for testimony and videos of completed hearings.

Related Articles - House Budget Hearing:

-- DEP Budget Testimony: DEP Works Through The Pandemic, Public Demands Action To Address Climate Change

-- The Facts In Response To Republican ‘Takeaways’ From DEP Budget Hearing

Related Articles - DEP-DCNR:

-- Work The Problem, Cancel The Show: Environmental Funding Is About People, Not Numbers

-- 90% Of Voters Want MORE Funding For Critical Environmental, Conservation Programs & Local Projects-- Whose Budget Proposal Does That?

-- $201,977,000 Diverted From Environment, Energy Funds To Balance FY 2020-21 State Budget

Related Articles- DEP:

-- DEP Chesapeake Bay Implementation Plan Update: 86% Of Phase 3 Milestones Are On Track

-- DEP Blog: Ten Tools Pennsylvania Is Using To Address Climate Change

-- DEP Climate Advisory Committee Meets Feb. 23 On Draft, Final Climate Impact Assessment - Flooding Is Highest Risk Hazard PA Faces

-- FEMA Working To Set New Premiums For Flood Insurance; Premiums Could Increase 4.5 Times; Over 25,100 More Properties At Risk Of Flooding In PA

-- Citizens Advisory Council Feb. 16 Meeting: DEP’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Funding Goes Off Fiscal Cliff This Year In Face Of PFAS Cleanup Needs

-- DEP Projects Nearly 70% Drop In Revenue Supporting Oil & Gas Drilling Regulatory Program Due To Downturn In Industry

-- IFO: Act 13 Drilling Impact Fee 2020 Revenue To Drop By Over $55.5 Million; Dropped By Over 42% In Just 2 Years

-- DEP To Propose New Regulation To Require Automakers To Offer Electric Vehicles For Sale In Pennsylvania

-- DEP Cancels 2021 Recycling Implementation Grant Round Because General Assembly Took $50 Million From Recycling Fund To Balance State Budget

Related Articles - DCNR:

-- Learn More About $1 Billion State Parks, Forests Maintenance, Infrastructure Backlog At New Website; Then Take Action

-- DCNR Faced Never Imagined Challenges In 2020, And Helped 45.3 Million People Use Outdoor Recreation As Refuge From A Global Pandemic

-- Dramatic Increase In Visitors Caused Strains On Already Understaffed, Underfunded State Parks, Forests And Facilities At DCNR

-- New Poll: 86% Say Parks, Trails, Outdoors Are Essential To Their Physical, Mental Health During Pandemic; State Parks Saw 26.6% Increase In Visitors

-- PA Environmental Council Updated Survey Shows Trail Use Increased 17% In 2020, Some Trails By Over 150%

[Posted: February 22, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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