Policy Update: Environmental Funding, Regulation Targeted

Budget amendments would block special funds & halt agency rulemaking
April 24, 2020

With only a brief pause for a reshuffle of operating rules due to COVID-19, the General Assembly has been active.

Unfortunately, not all for the good.

While a number of Committee meetings and legislative votes have taken place as the legislature begins to piece together a state budget for the next fiscal year, other bills and amendments are being positioned for possible inclusion in a larger budget deal. In these amendments, there are specific targets on environmental protection and conservation funding.

Just during the last week, two amendments that will have significant impact on environmental protection, public health, and recreational development were added to bills. They were stealthily inserted into different legislative vehicles without prior notice and now are close to being finalized by the General Assembly.

The bills may be considered as soon as next week. Here’s the run-down:
 

Freezing Environmental Funding

On April 20th the House Appropriations Committee amended legislation (HB1822) to include a freeze on use of any new revenues from 16 identified Special Funds, a substantial number of which are dedicated for agriculture, conservation, recreation, and community development. This list includes the Environmental Stewardship Fund (aka Growing Greener) and the Keystone Fund. No rationale was provided by the amendment sponsor or leadership as to why only these 16 Special Funds, out of the more than 100+ funds administered by the legislature and Governor, were subject to the freeze.

Growing Greener and the Keystone Fund are very much part of the economic stimulus needed during these difficult times.

Revenues from these funds are used by state agencies to address important needs like imminent threats to public health and necessary infrastructure repairs, as well as to match federal funding that could be lost without corresponding state commitment. This could also include potential federal stimulus funding.

Funds like Growing Greener and Keystone support an array of “shovel ready” projects across the Commonwealth that leverage private investment, support existing and new businesses, create jobs, and provide and protect the public resources that the citizens of Pennsylvania are currently turning to in this time of crisis. They are also used to address issues that communities across the state are struggling with every day, such as flooding, drinking water protection, and more.

In other words, they are very much part of the economic stimulus needed during these difficult times. For that reason, PEC has opposed inclusion of this amendment.
 

Halting Rulemaking Proposals

This week the House also quickly amended existing legislation (SB327) to place a moratorium on finalization of any proposed agency rulemakings until 90 days after the Governor’s March 6, 2020 Declaration of Disaster Emergency is officially terminated. This amendment mirrors language from a different bill (HB2416) that was recently introduced and voted out of committee without prior notice.

This legislation will create excessive uncertainty for the protection of the environment and public at a time when those protections are needed the most.

Both of these legislative proposals are problematic for several reasons:

  • They create a blanket prohibition that indiscriminately blocks rulemaking proposals – including those necessary for the protection of public health, or that may be required by state or federal law within a mandated timeframe. This will unnecessarily delay several Department of Environmental Protection rulemaking proposals that have already been approved by the Environmental Quality Board, and could even hamper Covid-19 response efforts by other state agencies like the Department of Health.
  • While the bills speak to a waiver process through petition to Standing Committees of the General Assembly, there is no requirement that waiver petitions actually be considered or acted upon by those Committees. Further, there is no guidance on how (or how quickly) the Committees should administer petitions, and whether the public will have the opportunity to provide any input. This problem is particularly acute if the legislature is not in session.
  • The General Assembly already has authority under existing law to review and even abrogate proposed rulemakings if it so desired, pursuant to a long-standing public process. These bills will short-circuit that process.
  • Finally, there is no certainty as to when the Declaration of Disaster Emergency will end. In other words, these bills could delay needed rulemakings for an indefinite period of time, outlasting the stated intentions of this legislation.

This legislation will create excessive uncertainty for the protection of the environment and public at a time when those protections are needed the most.
 

Action

PEC opposes these legislative proposals, and urges you to contact your legislators and express your concerns as well. For the reasons we’ve described above, the messages are:

  • Oppose any attempts to block use of Special Funds that benefit recreational development and environmental protection in the Commonwealth – as proposed by the amended House Bill 1822.
  • Oppose any attempts to block environmental and public health protections proposed by state agencies during this Declaration of Disaster Emergency – as proposed by the amended Senate Bill 327, as well as House Bill 2416.

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