Environmental programs, including those that benefit the Bay, suffered sharp cuts when Pennsylvania lawmakers finally approved a budget, 101 days into the new fiscal year.
PennEnvironment called the budget "disastrous," the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said it "rolls back years of progress" and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council called the cuts "unprecedented" and said they threatened the ability of agencies to do their jobs.
The Department of Environmental Protection was hit with a 25.7 percent budget cut, reducing it to spending levels of 13 years ago. The department is expected to lose more than 400 employees. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was cut by 18 percent, and is expected to lose about 160 employees.
After months of stalemate, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Ed Rendell signed a $27.8 billion spending plan on Oct. 9 that reduced overall spending from last year, with environmental programs among the hardest hit.
The budget "rolls back years of progress in cleaning up Pennsylvania rivers and streams," said Matthew Ehrhart, executive director of the CBF's Pennsylvania Office. "It contains the biggest cuts ever made to environmental programs in the history of the commonwealth."
Earlier in the year, a coalition of organizations called for more than $600 million in new funding to help pay for upgrades needed at wastewater treatment plants and for conservation programs to help farmers meet Bay cleanup goals. Instead, many of these programs are getting less.
The Resource Enhancement and Protection Program, which gives farmers a tax credit for using conservation programs, was cut in half, to $5 million. State support for conservation districts, which work with farmers to implement conservation programs, was cut from $3.6 million to $3 million. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Carl Shaffer said of the cuts, "at a time when more and more environmental expectations are being placed on agriculture, we see it as an inconsistency in public policy."
All of the state assistance for county stormwater management planning-$2 million-was eliminated.
Officials said impact of the cuts could lead to slower permit reviews or the likely closing of state parks and state forest roads.
Meanwhile, the budget opens more state forest land to natural gas drilling, which threatens the health of forests and streams, to raise $60 million. The budget also redirects royalties from that drilling from conservation programs, which historically received them, to the state's general fund.