New Waste Fees Would Cost Households $6.13 Per Year DEP Tells Senate/House
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty told House and Senate Appropriations Committees this week at budget hearings the proposals to raise municipal waste disposal fees to fund the Hazardous Sites Cleanup and the original Growing Greener Watershed Restoration Programs will cost households only $6.13 per year.
During the Senate hearing, Secretary McGinty described this year’s budget request by Gov. Rendell for DEP this way, “We cut into things you might be hearing about, we cut through the meat and into the bone.”
The new waste fees proposed by Gov. Rendell would eliminate at least some of the current “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul” problem of taking money from one successful environmental program and giving it to another environmental program.
A 50 cent per ton fee increase is proposed to fund the debt service on the Growing Greener II bond issue approved by voters in 2005, eliminating some of the pressure to pay debt service from the original Growing Greener Watershed Restoration Program.
The original Growing Greener Program has since 1999 supplied $181.7 million in watershed grants for 1,592 projects in all 67 counties to support community and watershed-based restoration projects cleaning up hundreds of miles of streams and reclaiming thousands of acres of abandoned mines.
By 2011-12, debt service for the Growing Greener II bond issue will take up half the monies going into the Environmental Stewardship Fund without an additional funding source.
A $2.25 per ton fee increase is proposed to fund the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program. Over the last two years the program was funded by transferring $50 million from the original Growing Greener Watershed Restoration Program, again “Robbing Peter to Pay Paul.”
Under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program, there are at least 125 sites that present significant public health and safety hazardous that need to be made safe under this program, Secretary McGinty said.
Rep. Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Reed (R-Indiana) expressed concerns about the proposed municipal waste fee increases.
Rep. Frankel said he hoped an alternative could be developed, because the fees would cost cities like
Rep. Reed said he was surprised to see the proposed fee for the Growing Greener II bond issue debt service because when the legislation was passed in 2005 it was passed with the understanding that no new fees or taxes would be needed to support the program. Now, two years later, the Rendell Administration is proposing a fee increase.
Secretary McGinty responded the General Assembly has a decision to make—adopt the fees proposed or provide other funding, or see a cut in funding for Growing Greener Watershed Restoration Programs.
A similar exchange occurred on the proposed waste fees at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing between Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) and Secretary McGinty.
While expressing support for the general direction of the Energy Independence Initiative made by Gov. Rendell, Sen.White expressed concern about floating yet another multi-million bond issue and the potential impact of the cost of the program on households and businesses.
Secretary McGinty, in response to another question, said the energy proposal would cost the average household $5.40 per year, but was expected to save consumers $73 per year in reduced electricity costs. Sen. White asked to see the calculations used to make those estimates.
In response to a question from Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) on how DEP was proposing to invest the $1.4 billion in abandoned mine reclamation funding Pennsylvania is slated to receive as a result of the program being reauthorized late last year, Secretary McGinty said DEP planned to do a series of outreach meetings across the state and would have a plan together by June.
Secretary McGinty said Gov. Rendell would soon be proposing a climate change initiative that would build on many of the intiatives already enacted by the Rendell Administration that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards, adopting the California car vehicle standards and the new Energy Independence Initiative.
She said the climate initiative would include an “intensive” stakeholder process to help develop the next steps the Commonwealth should take to combat climate change.
Secretary McGinty also highlighted other initiatives in DEP:
· Gov. Rendell’s Energy Independence Initiative;
· Outlined a new program that will commit the agency to make decisions on newly-required NPDES stormwater management permits within 32 days, excluding mandated public review times and after an applications is deemend complete;
· A new $2.5 million increase in spending for flood protection and mitigation;
· A $678,000 mine rescue equipment initiative to improve deep mine safety, noting in 2006 there were no underground mining fatalities in Pennsylvania for only the fourth year since 1870; and
· Proposals to increase in permit application fees by $9.1 million.
Secretary McGinty also outlined the steps DEP has taken to reduce operating costs, including reducing staff by 83 positions over the last two years, cutting overtime work by 50 percent, eliminating 96 SUVs from agency’s vehicle fleet and reducing paid student internships by 36 percent.
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