Friday, February 19, 2021

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

The House and Senate are starting their annual hearings on environmental funding with DEP in the House on February 22.

Every year it’s the same game of “gotcha” with literally the same questions from House and Senate members.  If you don’t believe it, search the PA Environment Digest under budget and look back over the last few years.

Environmental funding has been just numbers in these settings for legislators.  

That’s why it’s easy for the House and Senate to do things like take money from dedicated funds set aside to help communities fund local environmental improvement projects and use it to fill budget holes.

Afterall, they’re just numbers, right?

With the state facing at least a $3 billion structural deficit and wondering how to make up another at least $2 billion in one-time budget fixes, including federal COVID aid, we’re probably going to see more of the same.

It’s time to admit the obvious-- the current way the House and Senate go about budget hearings is worthless.  It’s just a made for video and social media show.

It’s easy for members to ignore the real problems or focus on the narrow interests of their own districts and it doesn’t give anyone else the chance to suggest ways to actually discuss how to fix things.

House and Senate members hear from agency heads-- and no one else-- on the budget.  

The public and people who care about these issues and whose lives are at stake are excluded from the whole process.

Real People

Let’s start with the fact environmental funding-- especially from dedicated funds-- isn’t numbers, it’s people.

People like Matt Bomgardner, a Lebanon County dairy farmer who uses cost-sharing funding to install conservation practices that make his farm more financially successful and reduces water pollution.  Read more here.

It supports the 2.5 million volunteers that have removed over 147 million pounds of trash from the Pennsylvania landscape over the last 30 years. Read more here.

It helps the communities and volunteers that developed and maintain the Ghost Town Trail in Cambria and Indiana counties which attracts over 80,000 users a year-- and their dollars-- to their area.  Read more here.

They help the Miller Family in Fayette County to permanently protect their forest land for the next generation.  Read more here.

Fishing is coming back to Blacks Creek in Venango County thanks to mine reclamation funding that supported the landowners, Slippery Rock Watershed Coalitionand many other partners.  Read more here.

Funding provided for aquatic habitat restoration has supported Greg Wilson and the Donegal Chapter of Trout Unlimited in Lancaster County on their quest to improve stream health.  Read more here.

Every year, businesses, nonprofits, local governments and others recognized by the Governor’s Awards for Environmental Excellence are helped to achieve excellence and efficiency, more often than not, by state environmental funding and other assistance.  Read more here.

There are not just a handful of these stories, or dozens or even hundreds-- there are thousands of examples of how environmental funding supports real people, communities, local governments, farmers and businesses achieve their goals to make their communities better.  Read more here.

When you cut environmental funding, you hurt real people, their communities and their businesses… and limit the chance people and communities have to be better.

The Challenges

Instead of excluding the public, the House and Senate should invite the public and stakeholders into the budget process to really have a discussion of the key environmental funding issues Pennsylvania faces.

And finding a solution doesn’t mean ignoring the problem to see if it goes away.  They won’t.  They get worse.

Let’s start with these five 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.

-- State Park & Forest Maintenance/Safety Backlog: 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.

-- 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 improve 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.

The House, Senate and governors have tried cutting and diverting their way out of these issues for at least the last decade and it hasn’t worked.  It never works.

DEP’s staff has been cut by 30 percent and General Fund support for the agency by 40 percent.

The House, Senate and governors have diverted $3.468 billion in environmental funding to other programs over the last 14 years. The list is here.

The mantra of “let’s cut regulation” to achieve these goals is simply untrue and a dodge for coming up with real solutions. 

When someone says, “Let’s cut regulations!” ask them how it will stop sewage and mud running into streams, or help communities that lack safe drinking water.

The answer is not changing the law so sewage and mud running into streams isn’t pollution anymore, yet that’s what some legislators want to do.

Real solutions are needed.  Real leadership is needed, not the same old, tired, dogmatic talking points.

But Who Supports Doing The Right Thing?

Real people.  90 percent of voters want MORE funding for critical environmental and conservation programs.  And, they’re willing to pay for it.  Read more here.

So who are these “real people?”

We are in every neighborhood, your church, your town and your community.

We believe clean is better than dirty, saving money is better than wasting it and being efficient and effective is better than not.

We enjoy nature, like to hunt and fish, take our kids on hikes and to the playground. 

We work to make our businesses cleaner, more efficient and to create opportunity.

We work the farmland and forests, protect habitat and promote sustainability.

We share what we learn with others and educate our kids to be good stewards.

We want better lives, better communities so our children and grandchildren can thrive and so our parents and grandparents can see their dreams fulfilled.

We never just settle for things the way they are.

Will House and Senate members and the Governor just settle?  Again?

As The Atlantic recently noted, there is a big difference between real governance and the “Performance” governing we have today.

Work the problem…. Cancel the show.

DEP Budget Hearing/Budget Documents

The House hearing on DEP’s budget request starts at 10:00 a.m. on February 22.  Click Here to watch live.

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 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.

(Photo: The iconic Rosie the Riveter was created by Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller as a poster for Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse Electric & Manufacturing Company to promote a message to workers to work hard and not slack off.)

Related Articles:

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

-- Growing Greener Coalition Urges General Assembly, Governor To Reject Any Budget Proposal That Undermines Dedicated Funding For Community-Driven Conservation Projects

-- 13 Hunting, Angler Groups Urge Senate, House Members, Gov. Wolf To Maintain Local Conservation Project Funding Critical To Stewardship Of Wildlife Resources, Public Lands

-- New Poll Shows 90% Of PA Voters Want Senate, House Members To Address Environmental, Conservation Priorities, Provide More Funding For Critical Programs

-- 90% Of PA Voters Want Senate, House To Provide More Funding For Critical Environmental, Conservation Programs - That Didn’t Happen In 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Posted: February 19, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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