Where PEC Stands on the Budget

As with every year, PEC continues to monitor the different moving pieces of adopting a state budget. This process includes multiple pieces of legislation, historically connecting everything from what financial resources are provided to agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) to perform their missions to the citizens of the Commonwealth, to issues wholly unrelated to state fiscal operations – for example, how DEP regulates a particular industry, or how DCNR manages its state park and forest system.

PEC has long held that the state budget process should: (1) ensure that both DEP and DCNR, as well as the Fish & Boat and Game Commissions, have sufficient support to conduct their responsibilities; and (2) not include that riders seek to substantively rewrite environmental protection or conservation laws. Unfortunately, decision makers in Harrisburg have consistently failed both of these principles over the past several years.

Included below is an ongoing list of actions and informational pieces on state budget issues in which PEC is engaged.

The Latest

November 2, 2017

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has passed, and Governor Wolf has signed, a jumble of legislative measures that construct an operating budget for the Commonwealth. As in the past few years and in a way that has become the unsettling new normal, this budget package was expanded to include a number of bad environmental riders – additions to the budget bills that have nothing to do with the budget and “ride” along on a piece of legislation that must, eventually, pass.

Many of these provisions have no business being in budget legislation. To make matters worse, these riders represent new legislative language that had not been independently vetted or voted on. Instead, they were quietly inserted into the budget bills, forcing “all or nothing” votes with little notice or public opportunity to respond.

For a full rundown of the riders, please see this PA Environmental Digest summary.

Some of particular note:

  • Air Pollution Act Transfer: The budget legislation transfers $30.4 million from a settlement by the Attorney General relating to violations of the Air Pollution Control Act by Volkswagen. These funds were intended to be used for environmentally beneficial purposes, but are now being used to balance the state’s General Fund. While the General Fund supports an array of environmental programs and resource protection agencies, there was no meaningful increase in any of those programs this year. Furthermore, both DEP and DCNR are still held to long term reductions in funding that have severely impeded their ability to meet their core mission and responsibilities.
  • Manganese Standard: The administrative code legislation contained a provision that eliminates a requirement that has been in place for 28 years regarding water quality standards for manganese. That standard applied water quality protection criteria at the point of discharge of manganese into a river or stream. The rider in the budget bill has now changed that standard to apply only when, and where, water is withdrawn for drinking water. If there is no water supply downstream, the standard functionally ceases to exist. This revision also now places the burden of meeting the standard onto the entity withdrawing the water, instead of the company discharging manganese into the waterway. This is extraordinarily bad policy, done without any justification, that risks water quality and imposes cost burdens on the public instead of polluters.
  • Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Treatment: The administrative code bill also included a rider that artificially extends current operating permits for water treatment facilities providing waste water treatment and disposal for conventional oil and gas wells. While questionable on its own – again, no rationale was provided – this may also run counter to federal water quality regulations.

 

As bad as these riders are, it could have been even worse. In July, the Senate hurriedly amended budget legislation to include provisions that would have stripped DEP of its permitting authority, subjected air quality protections to a politically-appointed review committee, and fast-tracked permits for the oil and gas industry even if those applications were deficient. Thankfully, these riders were not included in what ultimately became the final budget legislation, but they had been tacitly agreed to by the Governor as a trade-off for enacting a severance tax on natural gas.

In addition, this year’s budget package includes a requirement that the Governor identify $300 million in special fund revenues to divert to the General Fund. Whether that will include taking money from environmental, conservation, and/or recreation programs remains to be seen.

It goes without saying that the use of a self-inflicted budget crisis to hide and enact bad environmental provisions – without rationale, without deliberation, and without public opportunity to comment – is flatly bad policy and practice. The fact that it has become routine and acquiesced to evidences a lack of genuine governance and representative responsibility. There is ample opportunity to have open and honest dialogue on these issues; the fact that elected leadership is actively evading that dialogue speaks volumes. Pennsylvania – its people, communities, and environment — deserve better than the current state of affairs.

 

Legislative Communications

Op-Ed

A disaster in the making

by David Hess and Davitt Woodwell
Centre Daily Times, August 11, 2017

 

The chaotic state budget process is again moving in fits and starts in Harrisburg. And, again, the public is left to wonder how our environment will bear the brunt of political trade-offs on what should be purely fiscal decisions.

Two years ago, the state leveraged the budget to slow efforts to address climate change. Last year, budget negotiations were used to eliminate new regulations on the conventional oil and gas industry. This year, it appears members of the General Assembly and the governor are willing, in exchange for new revenues in the form of a severance tax, to sell out the integrity of environmental permitting in our state…

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Our Message to Members

Late last week the Senate quickly amended budget legislation to include a number of provisions that dramatically weaken environmental protections. These provisions include taking permitting review away from the Department of Environmental Protection, and establishing a new legislatively-appointed committee that can reject certain proposals to protect air quality.

This amended legislation was hastily passed by the Senate, and is now before the state House of Representatives for consideration.

We urge you to contact your Representative this week and let them know that you oppose these harmful provisions. Specifically:

  • That you oppose taking permitting decisions away from the Department of Environmental Protection and handing them to private interests.
  • That you oppose creating a politically-appointed committee that has the ability to reject air quality protections proposed for the natural gas industry.
  • That you oppose forcing the Department of Environmental Protection to approve potentially deficient permit applications solely because they have not made a final decision within a prescribed number of days.
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