Posted in the Green Lane Forum
#1 Oct 10, 2011
Precipitous drops in Pennsylvania's support for environmental protection, inspection and enforcement, since 2000
State support for core environmental protection halved
When adjusted for inflation, state support for environmental protection has dropped from $340,000,000 in 2000-2001 to approximately $160,000,000 today (see General Fund line item in following tables and charts, this represents what the state allocates to DEP). The 2010 - 2011 state budget is projecting to lower this even further to $145,000,000. The story is much worse when you adjust for inflation. If the state spent as little on environmental protection in 2000 as it does today, the agency would only be receiving $130,000,000. In other words, the DEP budget is 2/5s today of what it was midway through the Ridge Administration.
Much has been made of the tragic 26% cut in the 2009 budget debates, but Clean Water Action urges lawmakers to consider the even more dramatic impacts on environmental protection over time. DEP has been able to increase fees in certain divisions thanks to the growth of natural gas drilling, however this has neither been able to meet the inspection needs for the five fold increase in Marcellus Shale gas wells in the past two years, nor has it been able to meet the overall monetary needs of the DEP as a whole.
Worse, even when inspectors find egregious violations of the law, DEP is often forced to negotiate fines and enforcement actions with them because its legal staff does not have the capacity to fight expensive challenges by fossil fuel industry lawyers.
Meanwhile, other areas of environmental protection work recede. Publicly available records show that discretionary inspections of water facilities by DEP inspectors has dropped by 60%(from 3905 in '00 to 1542 in '09). Administrative file reviews have dropped by 67%(from 877 in '00 to 292 in '09). Administrative file reviews are internal DEP checks to make sure polluters are filing all the relevant reports filed under their permits.
Perhaps with more consistent checks on reports, the JBS Souderton plant in Montgomery County would not have discharged pollutants illegally into the Skippack Creek for seven years. Perhaps with a more robust enforcement staff, it could have been the Department of Environmental Protection and not the Federal Department of Justice that brought this suit. Perhaps with more frequent discretionary inspections, the Green Lane Marlborough Joint Authority's sewage treatment plant would not have been discharging raw sewage into the Perkiomen creek.
This week, two employees from Swamp Angel Energy were arraigned for illegally dumping natural gas drilling wastewater untreated in Pennsylvania. In a context where less than 1000 wells have already had over 400 toxic spills that they have reported, it is logical to suspect both that there have been far more spills and far more illegal dumping. It is quite possible that Swamp Angel Energy staff were operating under the assumption that they could simply get away with this kind of illegal disposal.
No substitute for Pa. support
While Federal funds have supplemented our clean energy funds and fees have improved the permitting staff, core environmental protections by the Department have withered away. While the total 2009-2010 budget increased due to an infusion of federal stimulus funds, these dollars are both short term and could not be used for core environmental protection operations. As of this writing, it appears that there will be further cuts to what is already one of the state's smallest agencies. In a context where the major new industry in our state is also known nationwide as a major polluter of air, water and land, this seems shortsighted to point of negligence.
#2 Oct 12, 2011
Higher budgets don't guarantee protection, and water system inspections mean nothing in this area. Non-disclosure, defense contractor protection, and municipal wealth are the names of the games played over the past 50+ years in Sellersville Borough. The residents have lost...in ways they don't even realize yet.
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