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Sen. White Urges DEP, Health Depts. To Reconsider Scaling Back West Nile Virus Program
Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, wrote to DEP Secretary John Hanger and Health Secretary Everette James this week asking them to reconsider suspending the comprehensive West Nile Virus Program.

In the letter
, Sen. White said, "As you know, West Nile virus is a potentially fatal disease that has been detected in over 20 counties so far this year. The first human case was confirmed earlier this month. As DEP has noted, the number of human West Nile virus cases has decreased substantially in recent years. No doubt, this reduction is in large part due to enhanced public awareness and an aggressive prevention and control spraying program. I strongly suggest that now – in the midst of higher temperatures and relatively high rainfall in much of the state – is the most inopportune time to discontinue funding for this program. Doing so only increases the public health risk facing Pennsylvanians.

"The Department has claimed that the program must be suspended until a final state budget is approved by the General Assembly. I strongly disagree with this assertion. For starters, Governor Rendell had before him recently Senate Bill 850, which appropriated $5.193 million for the West Nile virus program. Yet, the Governor chose to veto $3.610 million of this appropriation. This reflects a conscious decision by the Governor to reject spending authority for a critical and time-sensitive program."

In a written response to Sen. White, Secretary Hanger said, " The decision to suspend grants for 36 counties for West Nile Virus spraying was made based on the proposed funding level contained in Senate Bill 850. Assuming funding of $5.1 million for West Nile Virus in the final budget, DEP is only able to continue grant funding in 31 counties.”

DEP said it has discontinued funding for Armstrong, Bedford, Bradford, Cameron, Carbon, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Elk, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Jefferson, Juniata, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, union, Venango, Warren, Wayne and Wyoming.

In response to Sen. White's suggestion DEP fund the program from the agency's Clean Water Fund, Secretary Hanger said DEP cannot authorize the use of Fund dollars because it is specifically to be used for the protection of water quality and the elimination of pollution.

Patrick Henderson, Executive Director of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said, "We believe DEP has the clear authority to use the Clean Water Fund to prevent West Nile Virus, and it is shocking that the Department could be so wrong in understanding an environmental statute. The fact is, they are choosing not to fund the spraying program."

Click here
 to read entire DEP letter. Click here to read the letter to the Health Department. Click here to see DEP's announcement.

8/31/2009

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