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Harrisburg Punts on Environmental Protection in the State Budget (Again)

At the 11th hour, the House, Senate, and Governor’s office agreed to a General Appropriations budget for FY2017-18 that continues a funding crisis for environmental protection that started more than a decade ago. 
The chief environmental protection agencies – Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) - have been systematically underfunded. Under the auspices of tough budget times and belt tightening, key programs have been cut or eliminated. Staffing has been reduced, putting public health at even greater risk. Yet, the environmental challenges impacting Pennsylvania continue to grow.
For example, the Commonwealth’s water pollution challenges are growing in every corner of the state, yet the DEP’s Operational Budget, which supports water programs, was cut another 3.85 percent from the previous year. Since 2002-03, DEP’s Operations Budget is down nearly 34 percent. Growing Greener investments through the Environmental Stewardship Fund have decreased by 75 percent. And the budget deal cut the critical water commissions, including the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) and Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), by a whopping 50 percent.
There is truly only one way to describe the overall budget deal: it’s awful for Pennsylvania’s environment. It ensures that the biggest challenges facing our public lands, water, air, and climate will not be addressed for at least another year, and probably longer.
Specifically, the following are some of the major concerns from the budget deal:
Department of Environmental Protection
  • The overall General Fund DEP budget ($147.72 million):
    • 2.04% cut compared to the FY16-17 budget
    • 38.93% cut compared to the FY02-03 budget
  • DEP General Operations budget ($13.394 million):
    • 3.85% cut compared to the FY16-17 budget
    • 33.88% cut compared to the FY02-03 budget
  • Water Commissions take a devastating budget cut:
    • SRBC, DRBC, Rivermaster for the Delaware River, Interstate Commission for the Potomac River Basin, and Interstate Mining Commission all take a 50% cut compared to the FY16-17 budget
    • Chesapeake Bay Commission budget held steady at $275,000

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

The overall DCNR budget:

  • 6.29% cut in General Fund appropriations compared to the FY16-17 budget
    • 7.8% cut in General Fund appropriations compared to the FY02-03 budget
  • Budget deal shifts money from Oil and Gas Lease Fund
    • The budget takes $50 million from the oil and gas royalties on state lands and provides it for General Operations
    • It provides an additional $11.2 million from royalty revenue to the operations of State Parks and State Forests, which is an 83% reduction compared to the original House and Governor budget proposals
    • The continued use of oil and gas royalty revenue for general operations raises questions due to the recent Supreme Court decision on interpreting Article 1, Section 27 of the state constitution.
  • Additionally, the budget deal does not include, at this time, the bond proposal introduced in the Governor’s budget that would have increased DCNR’s water program budgets significantly.
For many of the issues impacting Pennsylvania’s environment, the costs will only continue to increase the longer they go unabated. One only has to look at the decades of inaction around coal mining impacts on our waterways and the $15 billion liability to the Pennsylvania taxpayer currently estimated to clean up those culm piles and streams. We’re making similar mistakes with Pennsylvania’s drinking water, unconventional drilling, climate change, and air pollution challenges.
State budgets are the ultimate reflection of policymaking priorities and for over a decade, environmental protection has been cut, and in many instances eviscerated. Our state priorities are out of whack and need to be changed before the problems become intractable and the harm to our citizens grows more severe.

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