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Budget Hearings in Full Swing

The House and Senate remain in recess for Appropriations hearings until March 10, but despite a minor setback due to inclement weather, the Committees have been systematically meeting with the heads of each state agency to discuss the projected needs and impacts from Governor Corbett’s budget plan.
Department of Environmental Protection
Both committees have met with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), led by Secretary Christopher Abruzzo. As expected, natural gas played a large role in discussion with members questioning the recent Chevron well fire and similar incidents.
When asked about the DEP’s ability to handle such incidents, Abruzzo said that the department has a sufficient funds and staff. The latest fee increase led to additional inspectors, and proposed fee increases would add even more inspectors as well as air and water quality specialist and accompanying management.
The committee discussed Corbett’s proposal to allow additional drilling on state lands, as well. Abruzzo said neither he nor his staff was consulted, but he would be glad to work with DCNR where applicable. Along similar lines, Abruzzo said he would work with the Public Utility Commission on the issue of natural gas pipeline impacts and infrastructure.
Sen. Greenleaf asked about the status of the state’s alternative fuel incentive programs as a way to further reduce emission and greenhouse gases. Abruzzo said the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Program and additional funding provided by the Act 13 impact fees has been effective in helping to convert vehicles to natural gas and promote the purchase of electric vehicles. Abruzzo said so long as revenues are received for the programs, DEP will continue to advertise the programs. There is a projected $6 million for the programs in the coming year.
The Secretary was also asked if he was aware of any negative impacts of wind farms. Abruzzo told the committee he was not aware of anything beyond the initial construction.
Rep. Bradford asked what should be done about manmade climate change. Abruzzo said that the DEP enforces the EPA’s air quality regulation. When asked if the EPA’s standards are the floor that will be enforced, the Secretary said the state needs to do the job it is doing and improve where it can. He went on to say that climate change is truly a national and global issue with leadership needed at a broader scale to address the multitude of challenges.
Department of Conservation & Natural Resources
During his budget address, Governor Corbett proposed “no impact” leasing of additional state forest and parks land. This proposal became the lead conversation when Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Ellen Ferretti testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee this week.
Many members stated that they have received communications from their constituents opposing lifting the moratorium on additional leases on state parks and forest lands for natural gas leasing and wanted to understand the “no impact” proposal.
Ferretti said that the proposal guarantees that additional leases will have no surface impact on lands. Additional leasing would include deep, horizontal drilling from adjacent private land without additional surface impacts under state parks or from existing or planning well pads on state forest land.
The administration sees this as an opportunity to generate more funding without increasing taxes. The revenues will be prioritized for use within DCNR specifically under the Executive Order.
When asked what additional studies have been done to determine the environmental impacts of drilling, Ferretti said they are updating their information all the time.