Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
Late last month, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a $33.97 billion spending plan that will serve as the financial roadmap for the next fiscal year. The General Assembly passed all accompanying bills and Governor Wolf signed the budget bills into law on June 28 before fleeing Harrisburg for the summer.
So how does this budget impact our environment?
This year’s budget was on time, but is it a good plan? Not quite. Especially in a year where there was a budget surplus, Governor Wolf and state lawmakers who approved this budget package should be ashamed for maneuvers that called for cutting funding from critical conservation funding such as the Environmental Stewardship Fund, among others.
Pennsylvania is facing many challenges related to the climate crisis, as well as woefully understaffed and underfunded agencies and a maintenance backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars for our state park and forest system. Despite that, this budget package basically says it’s in the best interest of Pennsylvania’s citizens to cut even more money from environmental protection and conservation.
A glaring example is found within the state Department of Environmental Protection, which continues to be staffed at 1994 levels and has seen its funding cut by 30 percent since 2002.
Recent reports show that Pennsylvania should be investing nearly $257 million per year on implementation of best management practices in the Chesapeake Bay watershed alone to meet clean water goals, not to mention millions of dollars more needed to solve our clean water problems in the Delaware and Ohio watersheds and the need to overhaul drinking water systems in our cities.
Pennsylvania farmers received about $6 million in this year’s budget for conservation, but that is just a start, and pales in comparison to the dire need of investment. For several years in a row, the river basin commissions in which Pennsylvania participates - like the Susquehanna and Delaware - are receiving well below their full-share funding.
With the enactment of this year’s budget, Pennsylvania’s resource agencies saw increases, but nowhere near the needed levels.
Take a closer look at the general fund allocations in the budget:
Despite drastic cuts to both the DEP and DCNR budgets, in earlier proposals, both agencies saw their general funds given increases due to fund transfers and new money found during last-minute budget negotiations, including an injection of $45 million to aid both DEP and DCNR operating budgets. While funding implications and final numbers for the agencies are not yet clear, this should be very positive.
What about code bills?
In addition to the appropriations bill and special fund shenanigans, the General Assembly often passes associated “code bills” that implement the budget across different areas. These code bills are often used to move nefarious pieces of legislation that, by themselves, wouldn’t make it through the legislature. Aside from a fairly “clean” Administrative Code Bill and a Tax Code Bill, which includes a $10 million per year increase for waste coal tax credits, this year’s Fiscal Code Bill has a number of troubling provisions. Take a look at a handful of issues below which caused us to raise alarm during the budget negotiations and to further oppose the Fiscal Code legislation in the final days of talks in Harrisburg:
Looking to the Fall
State legislators have left Harrisburg for the summer, but the House plans to return on September 17th with the Senate joining them on September 23rd. While a hefty amount of bad bills were blocked or pushed back in the busy spring legislative session by PennFuture and our partners, we expect to see a very active fall.
During the week of budget negotiations, the House narrowly passed House Bill 1105, which would create a “Consolidated Permit” program at DEP and open the door for shortcuts to environmental standards in individual permitting programs. The Pennsylvania Senate also passed Senate Bill 619 by one vote, which amends the Clean Streams Law to severely narrow the definition of “pollution” and weakens spill-reporting requirements. We will need to continue our fight against these two dangerous bills.
In addition to these bad bills, we will also be fighting proposals to shortcut our permitting processes by sacrificing public health protections, increase fossil fuel subsidies through EnergizePA, weaken clean air and water protections, and rollback conventional oil and gas regulations.
While there will be plenty of bad bills to fight, we will also be working to pass some important new bills that will help fight climate change by advancing clean energy. We will work to expand and extend our Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) — increasing wind, solar, and other renewables — as well as giving more people access to clean energy by enabling community solar.
We will also support putting a cap on carbon pollution and implementing a carbon price, possibly by joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and we will advance programs to aid in infrastructure and climate resiliency such as the Governor’s “Restore Pennsylvania” plan.