Gov. Wolf’s Environmental Budget Builds On Bipartisan Support For $450 Million Conservation Allocation From Federal ARP Funds; Increases DEP Staff To Manage Historic Federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Funding
On February 8, Gov. Wolf proposed a $43.7 billion General Fund budget that retains the $2.865 billion balance in the Rainy Day Fund and includes the previously announced $450 million allocation of federal American Rescue Plan funds for local environmental cleanup, conservation and recreation projects that has bipartisan support in the Senate and House.
The $450 million would be divided between DEP-- $180 million, DCNR- $135 million and Agriculture- $135 million.
Bipartisan Agreement On Allocation
With Gov. Wolf’s new proposal, there now appears to be bipartisan support for allocating significant funding from the federal American Rescue Plan to support local conservation, watershed restoration and recreation projects.
The preferred bills on allocating American Rescue Plan funding are these bipartisan proposals--
-- $500 Million For Local Conservation Projects: Senators John Gordner (R-Columbia), Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) and others have introduced bipartisan legislation proposing to allocate $500 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to fund Growing Greener watershed, farm conservation, mine reclamation and recreation projects in Senate Bill 525. A companion House bill is being introduced shortly. Recently, a companion bill was introduced in the House-- House Bill 2020 (Schlegel Culver-R-Northumberland, Guenst-D-Montgomery). Read more here.
-- Farm Conservation Cost-Share: Senate Bill 465 (Yaw-R-Lycoming, Comitta-D-Chester) establishes a new program to pay for on-farm conservation measures administered by the State Conservation Commission. Read more here.
The budget also includes a proposal to increase staff by 41 positions in the Department of Environmental Protection and by 31 positions in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The DEP positions would primarily help to manage the once-in-a-generation federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law investments of $3.8 billion in abandoned mine reclamation and $395 million to plug oil and gas wells abandoned by conventional drillers over the next 15 years and for energy programs included in the Law. Read more here.
The DCNR positions would help manage outdoor recreation and state park and forest operations that have seen significant increases in use during the continuing pandemic.
Several hundred long-term repair and improvement projects of many types – from as small as $100,000 to as high as several million dollars – are on a DCNR project list that totals more than $1.4 billion. Read more here.
There are 148 bridges out of more than 900 on DCNR lands that are rated as “poor” – the same rating that was given to the bridge that collapsed recently in the Pittsburgh area.
Pennsylvania has also 112 identified priority trail gaps including 200 miles of trails and 62 bridge projects that need about $200 million to complete.
Oil & Gas Fund Diversions
However, the proposed FY 2022-23 budget again proposes to transfer nearly all the revenue from natural gas drilling in state forests in DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund-- $67.790 million-- using $52.790 million to support state park and forest operations and $15 million to the Marcellus Legacy Fund for retransfer to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund to support that program.
These transfers were declared unconstitutional for the second time by the PA Supreme Court in July of 2021. Read more here.
The proposed budget would also use federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds for these energy-related programs within DEP--
-- $18.103 million for assistance to small & disadvantaged communities;
-- $22.3 million for DPE Energy Programs;
-- $13.236 million for Electric Grid Resilience; and
-- $4 million for Energy Efficiency & Conservation.
Other miscellaneous budget items--
-- $10 million transferred back to Recycling Fund to maintain municipal grant levels;
-- $1 million transferred from Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund [itself in trouble] to Recycling Fund;
-- $19.071 million from Marcellus Legacy Fund transferred to Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund;
-- $8.142 million from Marcellus Legacy Fund transferred to Environmental Stewardship Fund [supposed to be $15 million];
-- $10 million to establish a State Disaster Assistance Fund to aid individuals that do not qualify for traditional federal assistance;
-- $5 million initiative to increase monitoring, control of insect threats; and
-- $1.575 million Heritage and Other Parks zeroed out [again].
On February 7, the Legislative Audit Commission reported the Senate and House again have a record operating surplus of $233.6 million just sitting in their legislative accounts doing nothing as of June 30, 2021. That’s $33.6 million more than the previous year. Read more here.
-- March 2 - Senate Appropriations Committee state budget hearings: 10:00 - Department of Conservation & Natural Resources; 2:30 - Department of Environmental Protection. Hearing Room 1, North Office Building. 10:00 a.m. Click Here to watch live.
Chesapeake Bay Foundation PA Executive Director Shannon Gority issued this statement in response to Gov. Wolf's budget proposal--
“Governor Wolf’s proposal to increase funding for the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Agriculture, and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is a positive step toward protecting and restoring water quality in Pennsylvania.
“Unfortunately, the Commonwealth lags significantly behind in meeting its pollution reduction commitments and it remains unclear how the state will close the over $320 million annual shortfall in investments needed to achieve its Clean Water Blueprint.
“With the Governor’s proposal to spend over $13 billion in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the state would still retain nearly $3 billion in the Rainy Day Fund.
“The state legislature can make the choice to invest those federal dollars into the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program, Clean Streams Fund, and Growing Greener. It is critical support for the many boots on the ground, landowners, and communities working hard every day to protect and restore local rivers and streams.
“In his budget address, Governor Wolf said, ‘Let’s take advantage of the opportunity before us.’
“Clean water is critical to the health, economic wellbeing, and quality of life of all Pennsylvanians and a lot of work lies ahead. It is time our Commonwealth seizes its opportunities to create a legacy of clean water for future generations.”
-- Gov. Wolf’s FY 2022-23 Executive Budget Book [The Big Book]
-- Gov. Wolf’s In-Depth Summary Of FY 2022-23 Budget Proposal
-- Gov. Wolf’s FY 2022-23 Budget Proposal Spreadsheet
Related Articles This Week:
-- DCNR Blog: Gov. Wolf’s Proposed Budget Supports Conservation And Recreation [PaEN]
-- Critical Budget Issue: How Will The General Assembly Help Communities, Workers Transition To Clean Energy?
-- Legislative Audit Commission: Senate/House Now Have Record Cash Operating Surplus Of $233.6 Million As Of June 30, 2021 [$33.6 million more than 2020]
-- Senate Republicans: Governor’s Budget Less About Pennsylvania, More About Legacy
-- House Republicans: Wolf’s Spending Proposal Not A Serious Plan To Move PA Forward
[Posted: February 8, 2022]
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