Pennsylvania Eyes Water Quality Funding Cuts Despite Importance to Bay Restoration

As previously reported on Conduit Street, Pennsylvania’s water quality issues (especially for the Susquehanna River that feeds into the Conowingo Dam) are playing an increasingly important role as Chesapeake Bay watershed states prepare their final Phase III Watershed Implementation Plans under the Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). However, a Bay Journal article (2017-07-11) reported that the Pennsylvania legislature is now considering cutting environmental and resource agencies in light of a $1.1 billion budget shortfall. From the article:

Despite repeated warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to better fund Pennsylvania’s lagging Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts and the state’s clean drinking water program,  environmental programs overall had their funds cut, some by as much as 50 percent. …

The Department of Environmental Protection was decreased slightly from $148.4 million to $147.7 million and staffing was frozen at current levels. …

Also hit by cuts were the interstate river basin commissions that coordinate efforts on the Susquehanna, Delaware and Potomac rivers. Each was sliced by 50 percent. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission cut, in particular, is a potentially severe blow to the Bay, as it plays a major role in water quality monitoring and other initiatives.

The article noted the frustration of water quality and environmental advocates as potential budget actions and workarounds are considered:

“We continue the same trend that we’ve had for the last 13 years: reducing environmental funding year after year and not meeting our environmental obligations,” said David E. Hess, a former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection and now an environmental lobbyist. “It will continue the other trend; agencies will keep increasing permit fees to meet their costs. It’s an unavoidable consequence of the budget they adopted.” …

“It’s lopsided, it’s inequitable and the spending package they approved does a lot of harm to the environment,” said Ezra Thrush, PennFuture campaign manager for Water Advocacy. “They are going after clean water especially.” …

The new state budget won’t alleviate any concerns of environmental advocates, or for that matter, for some legislators concerned with water quality. Several bills have been introduced to fund water quality benefits or to raise dedicated revenue for environmental improvement — but no action on any of these has taken place in light of the budget talks. …

Sen. Richard Alloway R-Franklin County, one of five Pennsylvania lawmakers on the [interstate Chesapeake] Bay Commission, is the latest to introduce legislation to improve water quality in late June.

“You would be hard-pressed on the Republican side to find anyone who cares more about water,” said Alloway’s chief of staff, Jeremy Shoemaker. “But math is difficult and the budget gap this year is pretty massive. Until we find a revenue stream to address these concerns, we have to make cuts. Some of our priorities are among them.”

The article stated that in order to meet its Bay and water quality funding obligations the state would have spend between $241 to $674 million annually based on different reports. Pennsylvania currently spends $140 million per year.

Learn more about water quality and protection issues at the 2017 MACo Summer Conference, which will include panels on the Bay TMDL and environmental justice.

Learn more about MACo’s Summer Conference: