(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation expressed grave concern over environmental funding cuts in the recently adopted Pennsylvania budget that threaten to further reduce Pennsylvania’s commitment to clean up rivers and streams, and fail to provide much-needed environmental oversight and funding to limit impacts from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
“The budget approved last Friday rolls back years of progress in cleaning up Pennsylvania rivers and streams.” said Matthew Ehrhart, Executive Director of CBF’s Pennsylvania office. “It contains the biggest cuts ever made to environmental programs in the history of the Commonwealth.”
The new state budget reduces the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) personnel by $21.1 million, representing over 300 people responsible for implementing the agency’s environmental protection duties. The inequity of these cuts is stark—the 26.7 percent reduction in the DEP budget was nearly triple the average 9 percent cut other state agencies took in this budget.
“Not only has state government cut the Department of Environmental Protection by over 26 percent, it has failed to find the over $600 million in funding DEP says is needed by farmers and others to meet the mandates of the federal Clean Water Act to cleanup the watersheds contributing pollution to the Chesapeake Bay, Ehrhart said.”
The cut to DEP staff raises significant concerns about whether the agency can conduct basic and mandatory environmental protection duties. Without adequate staff, permits necessary for new business activity will not get reviewed and issued.
“Without the boots on the ground, full enforcement of environmental laws will not occur,” Ehrhart said.
Drastic cuts were also made to the only new resource the state has contributed to clean water in the last six years, namely the Resources Enhancement and Protection Program (REAP) farm conservation tax credit program, which was cut by 50% to $5 million this year.
In addition to cuts at DEP, the already understaffed conservation districts, a key player in water cleanup efforts, were cut by $600,000.
“Without the on-the-ground help provided by the conservation districts, not only can’t we spend the state dollars we have for farm conservation work, we will not be able to take full advantage of funding available through the federal Farm Bill to help our farmers install conservation practices.”
The new budget also eliminates completely the modest $2 million available for county stormwater management planning, another key element in reducing nutrient pollution from runoff, and reduces basic sewage planning and enforcement by 40 percent.
These cuts exacerbate a trend of cuts to critical clean water programs seen in the last several years which total almost half a billion dollars. They include:
- $376 million reduction in grants to support wastewater treatment plant operations over the last six years;
- $100 million diverted from the Growing Greener Program to pay for other programs and pay down the debt on bonds; and
- $5 million cut from the highly successful REAP farm conservation tax credit this year.
Another environmental funding crisis looms as Growing Greener funding will run out in 2010, leaving a gaping multi-million dollar hole that must be filled.
“We believe many of these clean water funding gaps can be filled through the adoption of a severance tax on natural gas production being developed by out-of-state companies in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas fields,” said Ehrhart. “These companies stand to make billions of dollars over the next several decades exploiting a Pennsylvania natural resource just like coal, timber and oil companies did in the past. This time, we need to be smarter and require these companies to contribute so that impacts to our land and water resources caused by their exploitation can be offset.”
Instead of passing a severance tax, lawmakers and the Governor agreed to open up our state forest lands to more drilling. While a valiant effort championed in the House of Representatives successfully limited the scale of this drilling, the severance tax ultimately did not meet demands of the Senate, nor the Governor, who had originally called for a severance tax as part of his initial budget proposed back in February. Yet the Marcellus Shale gas boom continues at an unprecedented rate, and environmental impact is mounting. In September, DEP ordered Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation to cease drilling operations after three separate chemical spills polluted streams and wetlands and caused a fish kill in Susquehanna County.
“In order to ensure the protection of our rivers and streams and prevent a battle over our public lands every year, we call upon the General Assembly to pass a severance tax as soon as possible,” said Ehrhart.
“Balancing budgets in tough economic times means establishing priorities, holding the line on spending, being creative about new revenue sources, and cutting non-essential funding,” said Ehrhart. “But the cuts made in this budget fail to prioritize both federal and state mandates to clean up our most precious, fundamental resource—our water. Our state government is not doing the job it is required to do by law and we all will pay the price for years to come.”