Statement on Pennsylvania’s Budget Impasse

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Statement on Pennsylvania’s Budget Impasse
Davitt Woodwell
President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
October 6, 2015

A seemingly too brief summer has given way to fall transitions and, still, just shy of 100 days, Pennsylvania has no budget. Whatever one’s politics, whatever one’s beliefs, this impasse is resulting in real impacts to any number of organizations, be they educational, social service, or governmental.

With Governor Wolf and the General Assembly at a stalemate over where to find and spend money, some of the greatest impacts, now and in the future, are truly on our Commonwealth – the quality of the air, land, and water that we all share and on which we all depend. The impacts of the budget impasse and potential budget cuts on the health of our environment seem lost in the broader debates, but are no less important. By no means is this meant to minimize the importance of education and social services, both critical to achieving the promise of Pennsylvania. All of these issues are critical to the future of our state.

However, stewardship of our air, land, and water has been severely curtailed over the last several budgets, with deeper cuts in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) than any other agency. This has resulted in hundreds of vacant or lost positions dedicated to ensuring environmental quality and public health.

The agency cannot be expected to carry out its critical functions without adequate capacity. Currently, DEP is facing a number of challenges, including managing shale gas production, addressing the state’s failure to meet mandated Chesapeake Bay cleanup standards, needing to develop rigorous control of methane leaks, tackling the challenges of burgeoning pipeline development, meeting Pennsylvania’s obligations under the Clean Power Plan, and working with municipalities to effectively handle stormwater.

Another round of cuts to environmental and conservation programs would do no one any good. In fact, as PEC has said in the past, we see Governor Wolf’s proposed budget as the start of returning both DEP and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to funding levels necessary to carry out their mandates, it does not solve all of the problems for either agency.

That being said, we have supported the move to begin restoring funding as a positive change in direction, including those portions of the proposed severance tax that go to support environmental programs.

We strongly urge the General Assembly and the Governor to find a way to resolve the budget impasse in a way that does not further endanger the health and quality of our air, land, and water that provide the backbone for all of Pennsylvania’s successes, past, present, and future.