With the election of Tom Wolf as the incoming 47th Governor of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg is in the midst of a relative calm with respect to policy activity. PEC’s Davitt Woodwell already summed up the big picture facing the Governor-elect with respect to environmental issues, but in this blog space we’re going to take a deeper dive on some of the issues of key importance to PEC.
Over the next several weeks we will begin to see a set of policy priorities emerge not only from the new Administration, but also from new leadership in the General Assembly as they begin to forge their own agenda. At the top of both of those respective lists is the unpleasant reality of Pennsylvania’s state budget. What does this have to do with the environment, you ask? For better or worse – a lot.
As has been duly chronicled in the PA Environmental Digest stretching back over multiple legislative sessions and Governors, environmental agencies and programs have not only taken disproportionate cuts in funding, they’ve been forced to carry the burden of providing new general fund revenues through the leasing of state forest land for natural gas development. The very agencies tasked with protecting our environment have been required to subject our most sensitive public lands to potential irreparable harm.
This must end in 2015. The Governor and General Assembly must acknowledge through their actions that a commitment to resource protection – identified in Pennsylvania’s own constitution as a fundamental obligation of the state – will be realized through enhanced agency support and funding for restoration programs. No one can expect that agencies faced with ever-growing demands – whether it be oversight of the still growing natural gas development, advancing pollution reduction targets in the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay watersheds, or formulating steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions pursuant to federal requirements – can effectively do so with less revenue each fiscal year.
Any discussion of new revenue sources, in particular a severance tax on natural gas production, should include enactment of renewed funding commitments to the programs and agencies that serve a vital health and human service: protecting the air we breath, the water we drink, and the places we live and play.
And the Governor-elect must not only reinstate the Executive Order prohibiting any future or expanded leasing of state forest and park lands, he must stand ready to veto any proposal from the General Assembly seeking to do so.