06/30/2017

State Spending Bill Poses Threat to Environment, Conservation, and Public Health

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Contact:
Joanne Kilgour, Director, Sierra Club PA Chapter, 412-965-9973, joanne.kilgour@sierraclub.org
Stephanie Rex, Communications Director, PennFuture, 412-463-2942, rex@pennfuture.org
Josh McNeil, Conservation Voters of PA, 215-564-3350, joshua.mcneil@conservationpa.org
Mark Szybist, Natural Resources Defense Council, 570-447-4019, mszybist@nrdc.org
 
Harrisburg, PA – Today, the state legislature heads home in advance of the July 4th holiday, leaving behind a spending package that threatens our environment, natural resources, and public health by slashing funding and continuing a decade long evisceration of key agencies. 
 
The spending bill approved by the legislature, House Bill 218, cuts the budget for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and particularly takes aim at drinking water programs. Specifically, the budget deal fails to address needs in the Safe Drinking Water Program as well as halves funding for the Delaware and Susquehanna River Basin Commissions - a triple blow to the water supporting millions of Pennsylvanians. Overall, DEP’s budget has been slashed by nearly 39% over the last 15 years, even as major new industries like shale gas drilling have come into the state and placed additional strain on DEP staff and resources.
 
“State budgets are the ultimate reflection of policy priorities. For over a decade, Pennsylvania has prioritized cutting environmental protection for our public lands, clean water, and clean air. This budget simply continues this funding crisis and must be reversed to protect Pennsylvania’s citizens,” said Matthew Stepp, Director of Policy at PennFuture.
 
“The Constitution of our great Commonwealth affords the people of Pennsylvania a right to clean air, pure water, and the preservation of the environment,” said Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club PA Chapter, “But, that right is compromised if the lead agencies charged with upholding it can't even afford to fill necessary vacant positions, employ the technology necessary to do their work, or invest in projects.”
 
In addition, General Fund investment for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) was also reduced. In fact, the DCNR budget was only made whole by transferring over $61 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund, including $50 million designated for general operations. This is despite last week’s landmark State Supreme Court decision in PEDF v. Commonwealth that held such transfers as unconstitutional, given the state government’s responsibilities as trustee of the Commonwealth’s natural resources. 
 
“The General Assembly’s budget cuts funding for the agencies that protect Pennsylvanians’ health and environment while blatantly ignoring a recent State Supreme Court decision and simultaneously increasing the General Assembly’s own funding,” said Mark Szybist, Senior Program Advocate for Natural Resources Defense Council. “This may serve the legislature’s own interests – but it disregards the well-being of hard-working Pennsylvanians, who deserve much better.”
 
“No citizen in Pennsylvania voted for a platform of closing state park beaches or campgrounds and making our water less safe, but that’s what the legislature just delivered in this budget,” said Josh McNeil of Conservation Voters of PA.  “Making these cuts to our environmental agencies without creating a severance tax on gas drillers should be a major black mark on the record of those who supported this bill.”
 
The irresponsible passage of HB 218 represents a dereliction of the duties of our elected officials to meet their constitutional mandates and to seriously compromises human health and the environment for all Pennsylvanians.