Environmental agencies feel pinch, as budget impasse drags on
The two state agencies overseeing Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry say the ongoing budget impasse in Harrisburg is not adversely affecting the “critical” parts of their missions. But other bills are going unpaid and meetings are being postponed.
“Our vendors are feeling the pinch,” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley tells StateImpact. “Landlords from whom we rent space are feeling the pinch. Utilities are feeling the pinch. So all of the non-personnel costs—there is definitely a lot of pain.”
As the state budget stalemate closes in on four months, Governor Tom Wolf has implemented a travel ban, hiring freeze, and purchasing constraints on agencies under his jurisdiction. A 2009 court case requires the Commonwealth to continue to meet payroll for state workers, so oil and gas inspectors remain on the job.
DEP says it is still moving ahead to fill the current openings in its oil and gas division, because they are law enforcement positions. However, Quigley would like to hire 50 additional inspectors.
“The longer this impasse goes, the more detrimental it is,” he says. “Obviously we don’t have those 50 additional bodies on the ground. So that has—to some extent– limited our ability to be everywhere we need to be.”
The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources also has significant oversight on the gas industry. It manages thousands of acres of public forest land leased for oil and gas development.
“Where an event has been planned in advance and it’s critical, it’s going on,” says DCNR spokesman Terry Brady. “But things like a trail ribbon-cutting, the department is just pulling back for the time being.”
For example, DCNR is continuing its shale gas monitoring program. However, it’s holding off on convening a meeting of its Natural Gas Advisory Committee, which usually meets quarterly.