Harrisburg, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) today expressed concern that, despite some movement in the General Assembly to fund the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, no final legislation is in place and plans to lay off program staff are continuing. Brian Hill, President of PEC, said, “We welcome these efforts, but there is still much to do to secure meaningful, long-term funding for this critical Program – and very little time to do it.”
The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund is responsible for cleaning up nearly 150 toxic waste sites across the state – but unless the General Assembly acts before they go home for the year, it will begin to run out of money at the end of December.
Hill added, “Earlier today Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary McGinty sent a note to all DEP employees pointing out that despite the movement in the General Assembly, the lack of final action is requiring the agency to continue its furlough plans. This is a disturbing development, because it means the critical parts of the program will be mothballed and important work – work that will protect the health and environment of the citizens of the Commonwealth – will not be done.”
The Hazardous Sites Program, which has been without a dedicated funding source for five years, cleans up those sites that are seriously contaminated by toxic materials and owned by insolvent or out-of-business companies. The program also is critical because it provides:
- Funding to cleanup toxic waste sites, and to pay Pennsylvania’s share of federal Superfund cleanups;
- Funding to cleanup chemical spills and respond to emergencies;
- Support for Pennsylvania’s nationally-recognized Land Recycling brownfield redevelopment program; and
- Investigations of illegal hazardous waste disposal and methamphetamine labs.
Everyone in Harrisburg agrees the Program is important. What they have not been able to agree on is how to provide dedicated funding to maintain these important efforts. Governor Rendell had proposed a $2.25 fee on municipal waste disposed in the state. Other legislators suggested earmarking part of the Corporate Net Income or Capital Stock and Franchise businesses taxes to support the Program. Still others proposed using a small part of the $650 million budget surplus for the year, or part of the state’s Rainy Day Fund.
In October the Senate unanimously passed legislation to provide $17 million to keep the Program afloat this year by taking money from legislative accounts, and to maintain funding at $40 million a year for the next four years by earmarking funds from the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax on businesses. This legislation has since been amended in the House to only provide funding for the remainder of the current fiscal year, and to leave the fate of the Hazardous Sites Program to future budget debates next year.
“While providing immediate funding for the almost-bankrupt Program is vital, this bridge falls far short of actual need,” Hill said. “The bottom line is simple: the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program needs to be funded and it needs to be funded both now and in the future. This cannot wait for the New Year or another budget season.”