House Budget Hearing Fails To Address A Single Critical Budget Issue Faced By DEP Or DCNR
The February 22 House Appropriation Committee on the FY 2021-22 budget request for the Department of Environmental Protection resulted in no discussion of critical funding issues faced by the agency.
Questions from members did result in this news--
-- Delaware Watershed Ban On One Type Of Natural Gas Drilling: DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said he will be voting yes to ban one type of natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Watershed when the Delaware River Basin Commission meets February 25. Read more here.
-- Recycling Grants: Secretary McDonnell said DEP may be able to again accept applications for grants to support local recycling programs later this year, but at a reduced rate of funding. On January 23, DEP announced it had canceled the next round of grants for the first time in the Recycling Program’s 33 year history [Read more here]; the General Assembly took $50 million from the Recycling Fund to balance the state budget reducing available funds.
-- DEP Has 8.8 Percent Vacancy Rate In Positions: Secretary McDonnell said DEP has an unusually high 8.8 percent vacancy rate-- over 200 positions in a complement of about 2,513-- due to staff turnover and retirements. Normally vacancies run about two percent. This is in addition to the fact budget cuts over the last few years have eliminated an estimated 30 percent of positions.
There was no discussion of these issues--
-- Water Pollution Cleanup: A broad group of stakeholders found a minimum of $324 million is needed annually to fund the effort needed to meet Pennsylvania’s water pollution cleanup obligations just in the Commonwealth's portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Read more here. Double that for the whole state and add in much needed drinking water and wastewater system improvements [Read more here].
-- Protection From Flooding: There has been a 71 percent increase in very heavy precipitation days in the last 54 years putting over 831,000 people and thousands of businesses in all parts of the state at risk. Read more here. In 2018 alone, there was over $101.5 million in flood damage not covered by the federal government in Pennsylvania. Read more here. The projections are Pennsylvania will experience 42 percent more days of extremely heavy precipitation in the next 25 years. Read more here.
-- Hazardous Sites Cleanup: DEP has been warning the state Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program was headed for a fiscal cliff for years; it’s now here, just when the state is facing more cleanups related to the PFAS/PFOS and other emerging contaminate problems. Read more here.
-- Transition to eDEP: To support improvement in permitting and inspection efficiencies, the future of DEP is clearly converting these processes to electronic systems. Efforts so far have not been comprehensive enough and they need support. Read more here.
Since the House Appropriations Committee has not scheduled a hearing on the FY 2021-22 budget request for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources they have not addressed any of DCNR’s critical funding issues.
There is a $1 billion backlog of maintenance and safety projects in State Parks and Forests. Literally millions more Pennsylvanians flocked to State Parks and Forests for a respite from the COVID pandemic clearly showing their value. Read more here. And local and regional parks are in the same shape.
Republican members brought up the same questions they have other years--
-- Why is permit processing so slow? Maybe because you cut DEP’s staff by 30 percent? or over half the permit applications submitted are incomplete or don’t meet standards and consultants take six weeks to correct their mistakes? [Read more here].
-- Opposition To Carbon Pollution Reduction Program Covering Power Plants: Went over again disagreements on statutory authority-- no you don’t, yes we do, carbon dioxide is a regulated air pollutant by EPA; tax versus auction fee-- it’s a fee; impact on jobs - coal plants are closing with or without this rule due to competition with natural gas not regulation; etc.
-- Why isn’t DEP doing more to plug abandoned wells or working with industry to do it? Because you don’t give DEP any more money to do it? The industry is plugging a few wells each year.
-- What Assurance Do You Have PA Citizens “Aren’t Going To Die Like They Did In Texas?’ If PA Switches To Green Energy: House Republican Appropriations Chair Stan Saylor (R-York) repeated a baseless natural gas industry claim frozen windmills were the cause of the devastating blackouts in Texas over the last week. He repeatedly cut Secretary McDonnell off when he tried to answer the question. Read more here.
In fact, energy experts have said the electricity generation failures were largely caused by freezing natural gas pipelines that limited supplies to natural gas-fired power plants and the freezing of feedwater systems to natural gas, coal and nuclear power plants which makes up a significant portion of electricity generation in that state. Read more here.
The other failure was by the Texas electrical grid operator to plan for these types of weather events and the fact the Texas grid is not connected to any other sources of electric generation outside the state.
Yes, windmills did freeze. They were not required to be weatherized as they are in Pennsylvania and northern states. They make up about seven percent of the power supply in Texas. Read more here.
Republicans offered no plans of their own to solve any of these problems.
Democrats supported the Carbon Pollution Reduction Program, asked about the latest in the state’s response to PFAS/PFOS contamination and on diversity in DEP’s workforce.
For the first time, DEP posted some of the detail background budget documents it submits to the General Assembly, including--
-- FY 2021-22: DEP Legislative Budget
-- FY 2021-22: DEP Request for Approval of Federal Funds
-- FY 2021-22: DEP Listing of Contracts and Grants
No House hearing has been scheduled on the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
In the Senate, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources hearing is March 9 at 10:00 a.m.; the Department of Environmental Protection on March 11 at 10:00 a.m. and the Department of Agriculture on April 8 at 2:00 p.m.
Cap-Star: House Appropriations Republican Chair Stan Saylor To DEP: What Assurance Do You Have PA Citizens ‘Aren’t Going To Die Like They Did In Texas?’ [Saylor Repeated Baseless Claim Frozen Windmills Were Cause Of Blackouts; PJM Already Said A Texas Blackout Is Not Likely Here]
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[Posted: February 22, 2021]
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