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State Budget Headed in the Right Direction for Environment

Governor Tom Wolf signed into law a $32.7 billion spending plan for the Fiscal Year 2018-19 Pennsylvania state budget (House Bill 2121). Compared to the long budget stalemates Pennsylvania has dealt with over the last few years, this appropriations bill made its way through the General Assembly on time and with modest increases in investment for environmental protection.
Pennsylvania’s FY2018-19 Budget & the Environment
It’s important to put Pennsylvania’s environmental investment budget in context first: our key state resource agencies and commissions are chronically underfunded, understaffed, and work with aging infrastructure. For almost two decades, Pennsylvania Governors and legislators – both Democrats and Republicans – cut environmental budgets even while ecological stressors like natural gas drilling and climate change were on the rise.
The FY2018-19 state budget does very little to reverse these decades of dismantling and it will take strong bipartisan leadership in Harrisburg to reverse this costly trend. Nonetheless, the state budget provides modest increases that allow the Commonwealth’s resource agencies, such as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to slightly increase capacity and not have to cut back programming. 
In fact, unlike the last few years, no environmental agency or commission we work hard to advocate for saw spending cuts and some saw increases. It signals some hope that this budget indicates a floor to the cuts and a beginning to the long-road to building strong, well-financed and staffed environmental and conservation agencies that protect and advance public health and a sustainable economy.
Take a closer look at the FY2018-19 budget allocations (HB 2121):
Department of Agriculture 
  • $1M increase from FY2017-18 for General Operations
  • $3M increase from FY2017-18 for Spotted Lanternfly Control
  • Overall, $7.49M increase for PDA from FY2017-18
Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
  • $1.74M increase from FY2017-18 for General Operations (from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)
  • $5.16M increase from FY2017-18 for State Parks Operations (from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)
  • $6.52M increase from FY2017-18  for State Forests Operations (from Oil & Gas Lease Fund)
  • $2.50M increase from FY2017-18 for Parks & Forests Infrastructure
  • Overall, $16.1M increase for DCNR from FY2017-18
Department of Environmental Protection 
  • $1.07M increase from FY2017-18  for General Operations
  • $1.52M increase from FY2017-18  for Environmental Program Management
  • $3.98M increase from FY2017-18  for Environmental Protection Operations
  • $135K increase from FY2017-18  for Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Source Abatement
  • No change from FY2017-18  for DRBC (Delaware River Basin) - $217K
  • No change from FY2017-18  for SRBC (Susquehanna River Basin) - $237K
  • No change from FY2017-18  for ICPRB (Potomac River Basin) - $23K
  • No change from FY2017-18  for ORSANCO (Ohio River Basin) - $68K
  • No change from FY2017-18  for Chesapeake Bay Commission - $275K
  • No change from FY2017-18  for Conservation District Fund - $2.5M
  • Overall, $6.84M increase for DEP from FY2017-18
Fiscal Code Bill Makes Few Environmental Changes
In addition to the appropriations bill, the legislature often passes associated “code bills” that implement the budget across different issues areas. These code bills are often used to move nefarious pieces of legislation that by themselves wouldn’t make it through the legislature. For this budget, legislators passed a Fiscal Code, which implements the state budget (House Bill 1929) that only included a few environmental and conservation provisions, including: 
  • Transferred $30.4 million dollars from the Volkswagen (VW) settlement to the General Fund. These funds were provided to Pennsylvania from a settlement that found VW defrauded owners of low-emissions vehicles, resulting in more pollution. These dollars are supposed to be used by the state to reduce air pollution, but the legislature is diverting those funds to balance the budget instead;
  • Established a state financial fund to help owners of private dams satisfy financial responsibility obligations under the Dam Safety and Encroachments Act, administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP);
  • Allocated $14.5 million in funding through the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) for small water and sewer projects around the Commonwealth; 
  • Mandated that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) open and create various ATV trails in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Looking Ahead Through 2018
With the state budget wrapped up on time, the legislature will make themselves scarce in Harrisburg between now and the November elections. A number of big issues are still on the table, including threatened closures of uneconomic nuclear power plants, unsafe pipelines under construction impacting local communities, implementing the state’s new building codes, passing community solar legislation, and updating the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard (AEPS). Furthermore, factions within the legislature are still interested in advancing regulatory rollbacks and dismantling state environmental protections. It’s possible these issues may crop up through the end of this year and PennFuture will keep an eye out, particularly in a lame duck session after the elections.
Nonetheless, it’s been an incredibly busy legislative season and I’d be remiss without mentioning how important you and your support have been. This year, our members and supporters have taken countless actions including making calls to legislators, sending letters to your representatives, and organizing in-district meetings on issues around conservation and the environment. Your presence is felt in Harrisburg and is making a difference as we begin reversing decades of cuts, rollbacks, and degradation. 

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