GOP budget underfunds environmental protection

HARRISBURG, June 27 – The Republican-crafted budget poised to pass the state House significantly underfunds environmental protection, state Rep. Greg Vitali said.

The budget does not fund Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed energy investment initiative, which would provide more than $140 million for renewable energy and conservation programs. Those programs would create good-paying jobs, save money and help the environment.

“This budget continues to ignore Pennsylvania’s ethical responsibilities to address climate change,” said Vitali, the Democratic chairman of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

In addition, the GOP budget cuts funding for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from $147 million proposed by the governor to $143.5 million.

Vitali said the budget continues the chronic underfunding of DEP, which had received $200 million in the 2006-07 fiscal year. DEP staffing has been reduced by about 10 percent since 2006.

Vitali said the budget also continues to use the Oil and Gas Lease Fund as a “cash cow” to balance the budget, diverting $67 million from the fund to help pay the day-to-day operations of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This is an addition to the $50 million automatically transferred to DCNR from this fund.

The Oil and Gas Lease Fund was established to provide money for conservation, recreation, dams and flood control projects. Revenue for this fund comes from development of state lands -- mostly rents and royalties from Marcellus Shale gas drilling in state forests.

The fund was intended provide money for projects that enhance the value of state lands.

Finally, the budget maintains former Gov. Tom Corbett’s punitive $500,000 cut made to the Delaware River Basin Commission’s funding because it refused to enact regulations to allow natural gas drilling in the basin. The commission was receiving $934,000 until Corbett reduced its appropriation to $434,000. Wolf proposed a $750,000 appropriation to the commission.

“If this budget bill reaches his desk, Gov. Wolf should veto it,” Vitali said.