Lack Of Funding And Focus Is Critically Harming Pennsylvania’s Environmental Programs

Contacts:  Alex Oltmanns, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, 412-481-9400
B.J. Small, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, 717-234-5550
Date: Feb. 9, 2016

Davitt Woodwell, President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, and Harry Campbell, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Office of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, issued the following statement in response to Governor Tom Wolf’s budget address:

Today Governor Wolf delivered his 2016 budget address, despite the fact that Pennsylvania still does not have a complete operating budget in place for the current fiscal year. While the state government’s failure to deliver a budget has adverse ramifications across the Commonwealth, it is particularly ominous for Pennsylvania’s environment.

Against the backdrop of over a decade of cuts to environmental programs and agencies, the stark reality is that Pennsylvania is losing control over its environmental future. Today’s budget address unfortunately proposed little more than additional steps down that same path.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) alone has seen a 22 percent cut in staff — over 700 positions — between 2002-03 and 2015-16. And, in the latest round of “freezing” positions, DEP is not allowed to fill necessary positions in a number of high profile regulatory programs.

These cuts in resources have been made without regard for their impact on reviewing and issuing permits, conducting compliance inspections, and taking enforcement actions. They are cuts the agencies are just expected to live with.

There has been no corresponding decrease in the laws they have to enforce, the projects they are told to undertake, the mandates they must meet, and the emergencies they have to respond to in order to protect public health and the environment. Those responsibilities have only increased in the last decade. Remarkably, the one thing that hasn’t changed over the years is the dedication and hard work of agency employees trying to hold everything together and make it all work in spite of the lack of support they get.

One of Pennsylvania’s most pressing obligations – cleaning of roughly 19,000 miles of polluted streams in Pennsylvania and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed cleanup – is now squarely in the crosshairs with Pennsylvania projecting a significant shortfall of 2017 pollution reduction targets.

While the departments of Environmental Protection, Agriculture, and Conservation & Natural Resources announced a much-needed reboot of the Chesapeake Bay Program on Jan. 21, DEP Secretary John Quigley was not shy in saying getting additional resources was critical to implementing the plan– funding and staff. We have not seen those resources in the Governor’s 2016-17 budget proposal.

For more than a decade, the state, and both political parties, have failed to make adequate investment in its resource protection agencies, as well as programs designed to address ongoing pollution challenges from the past. The ongoing stalemate is deepening costs and unintended consequences for the Commonwealth.

Without a meaningful renewal of our environmental investments, the Commonwealth faces not only failure to meet federal and court-imposed mandates, it could lose control of its very own programs. The state currently maintains primacy for a number of environmental programs from water quality protection, mining, air quality control, and others. But federal agencies have increasingly signaled that the state’s ongoing refusal to adequately staff and support these programs could result in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and federal Office of Surface Mining assuming direct control of oversight and enforcement in Pennsylvania.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Pennsylvania Environmental Council will be providing examples of these deficiency findings ahead of budget hearings in the General Assembly starting later this month.

It’s past time for Pennsylvania to own up to its constitutional responsibility to protect its citizens and environment and provide strong leadership. The Governor and General Assembly have no choice but to make the decisions and commitments necessary, lest they want the federal government, or even worse, the courts to make those decisions for them.