Report: Delaware one of four Chesapeake Bay states that cut funding and/or staff at agencies handling pollution

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DNREC funding cut by a third over the past decade

A hydraulic fracturing (fracking) well in north-central Pennsylvania. (Unaltered public domain photo by Gerry Dincher, via Creative Commons 2.0)

ByAd Crable, Bay Journal News Service

States in the Chesapeake Bay region cut funding or staff to their main pollution control agency over the last 10 years, the Environmental Integrity Project reported.

Environmental agencies in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York each saw budget reductions, even after adjustments for inflation, between 2008 and 2018, according to the report, “The Thin Green Line: Cuts in State Pollution Control Agencies Threaten Public Health.”Those states, as well as Maryland, also reduced their environmental workforce during the same time period.

The report was especially critical of Pennsylvania legislators and governors for cutting funding by 16 percent and staffing by 15 percent, even as state spending overall grew by 18 percent.

Among the 48 states studied, 30 of them cut funding to the operating budgets of agencies that protect public health and the environment.

Both Delaware and New York were in the top 10 states with the largest cuts. Delaware cut funding to its Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) by 33 percent and staffing by 21 percent over the decade.

New York, with more than a dozen counties at least partly in the Bay watershed, cut its Department of Environmental Conservation budget by 31 percent and staffing by 29 percent.

Maryland increased funding for its Department of the Environment by 1.6 percent, though it reduced staffing by 5 percent. Virginia increased funding by 5.5 percent and staffing by just less than 2 percent to the Department of Environmental Quality.

West Virginia was the only state to show dramatic increases in financial support to its Department of Environmental Protection over the decade, increasing funding by 46 percent and staffing by 8 percent.

According to the report, Pennsylvania’s cuts came at a time when the state faced “unprecedented environmental challenges.” Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, commonly known as fracking, emerged as a source of environmental controversy, it says, and the state has failed to meet its commitment to dramatically reduce nutrients polluting the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland and environmental groups have threatened to sue Pennsylvania for failing to meet its nutrient reduction goals.

Also, Pennsylvania is the third-largest coal mining state in the country and has more than 5,000 abandoned coal mines, many of them leaking pollution.

“From soup to nuts, when you make steep cuts in revenue at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and then lose staff and expertise, not surprisingly, your ability to run the agency and protect the environment is chopped off at the knees,” said David Masur of PennEnvironment, a Philadelphia-based citizens advocacy group.

Pennsylvania was chastised in the report for being the only state that produces large amounts of natural gas that does not impose an excise tax on drilling companies, which could be used to fund clean water and conservation efforts. The state does levy an “impact fee” to help communities offset impacts of gas drilling.

The report is also is critical of the Trump administration’s budget cuts to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and its proposed rollback of regulations under the argument that states will offer protection from air and water pollution.

“This is just a shell game,” said Eric Schaeffer, executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project and a former EPA enforcement director. “State agencies are often badly understaffed, and the EPA workforce is already at its lowest level in more than 30 years.”

Bay Journal staff writer Ad Crable is based in Lancaster County, PA. This article was distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

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