Starting today, the General Assembly will begin final work on passage of the state budget. Included in this negotiation process is the positioning of multiple bills to receive consideration before the legislature adjourns for the summer. This is the potential for good or bad news for the environment, depending on where negotiations end up. So now is a critical time for citizens to contact their legislators – we hope that will include you. Here is a quick run down of key issues for the next few weeks.
Unprecedented Threat to Environmental Program Funding
In his February Budget Address, Governor Corbett proposed permanently eliminating the Keystone Recreation, Park & Conservation Fund (more commonly known as the “Keystone Fund”). For almost twenty years, the Keystone Fund has been used throughout Pennsylvania communities for trails, libraries, historic preservation, land protection, and public lands. Since 1993, when it was overwhelmingly approved through voter referendum, the Keystone Fund receives funding through a dedicated percentage of the state’s existing realty transfer tax. For a list of projects funded through the Keystone Fund, please visit http://keystonefund.org/.
There is growing support in both the Senate and House to protect the Keystone Fund, but representatives need to hear from their constituents now to ensure that the funding remains secure in the final budget agreement.
Please contact your legislators and let them know you support full funding for the Keystone Fund.
More Resource Agency Funding Cuts
Yet again, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) are projected to see additional budget reductions for the upcoming fiscal year, continuing a trend that has now stretched over two administrations. A terrific breakdown of these reductions is available from the Pennsylvania Environmental Digest.
At a time when more and more demands are being placed on our resource protection agencies – whether it be from Marcellus Shale or other protection and compliance difficulties – our state cannot reasonably expect them to do “more with less”. Particularly after several successive years of budget cuts.
Please contact your legislators and let them know you support more funding for DEP and DCNR, especially at a time when there are unprecedented demands on those agencies to protect public health and safety.
Out-Sourced DEP Permitting Authority Done Badly
There has been recent movement on legislation – House Bill 1659 – that would require DEP to develop and implement a plan for outsourcing some of its core permitting functions to third parties. PEC has been opposed to this proposed concept for several years, and remained opposed to this approach with House Bill 1659 in the current session.
House Bill 1659 may be voted on by the full House of Representatives before the end of this month. We ask that you contact your representative in the House and let them know that you oppose House Bill 1659 as currently written, and oppose any outsourcing of permitting authority from DEP.
Oppose Relaxed Compliance Standards for Some
Another concept that has seen renewed interest in the General Assembly is relaxed regulatory compliance standards for certain businesses, based upon the size of the business. Now legislation in the General Assembly – House Bill 1349 – is poised to receive final consideration by the Senate before being signed into law.
While we can understand the desire to achieve more efficient administration of protection regulations, we believe that performance standards should be absolute and apply equally to anyone receiving a permit for activities. Adverse impacts to public health or the environment aren’t any less significant based upon the actor causing them. We ask that you contact your Senator and let them know you oppose variable protection standards for environmental and public health protections, and that you oppose House Bill 1349 as currently written.
Help Local Governments Address Stormwater Management
On a more positive note, legislation that would clarify the ability of local government authorities to better address impacts from stormwater runoff – Senate Bill 1261 – is getting closer to passage by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 1261 gives local governments the assurance they need to begin proactively dealing with stormwater challenges from both new and existing development.
After passing the Senate unanimously, Senate Bill 1261 now awaits a vote in the House. We ask that you contact your Representatives and let them know you support Senate Bill 1261.
Support Green Building Standards
Another positive set of bills – House Bill 193 and Senate Bill 1136 – are close to final consideration in the General Assembly. These bills would require that when a significant amount of state money is being used to develop or refurbish a building, it must meet certain green building performance standards. This requirement will help ensure long term economic and environmental benefits, as have been recognized throughout Pennsylvania by the private sector.
We ask that you contact your legislators and let them know that you support green building performance standards for any state-funded building project, as reflected in House Bill 193 and Senate Bill 1136.