September 13, 2017 – Andrea Sears, Public News Service (PA)
Groups say riders to the Senate budget bill would put air, water and health at risk. (Jared Kofsky/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Environmental groups are telling the state House of Representatives that the Senate’s proposed budget is a raw deal for Pennsylvanians.
Eleven groups with a combined million members in the state want the House to reject at least a half dozen riders attached to the Senate’s budget.
According to Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, the riders would put the state’s air and water quality at risk.
Among them is a provision to end efforts to control emissions of methane and other air pollutants from oil and gas wells and pipelines.
“It would also allow wastewater plants that discharge gas drilling waste water to continue to do that under permits that have been long expired,” Arnowitt states.
Supporters of the measures say at least some of them are necessary because the Department of Environmental Protection takes too long to approve permits.
But Arnowitt points out that the legislature, more than the DEP itself, may be responsible for backlogs and delays in the permitting process.
“DEP has had its budget cut many times over the past decade and is now operating with 20 percent less staff,” Arnowitt explains. “So, of course you’re going to see permit decisions slowed down to some extent.”
If no revenue bill is passed by Friday, the state may have to start cutting funding for a variety of programs including public education.
But Arnowitt says the state shouldn’t have to sacrifice clean air and water to get funding for its schools.
“These are really riders that have nothing to do with the state budget itself,” he stresses. “They are only being stuck in there because you cannot remove them once they are part of the budget, and they know that the budget bills have to pass.”
The Senate bill does have some bipartisan support, and the support of Gov. Tom Wolf.