Monday, June 30, 2014

Patriot-News: Corbett Withholding Signature On Budget

The Patriot-News is reporting Gov. Corbett is now withholding his signature from the budget until the Senate and House do “meaningful pension reform” saying, "I am withholding signing the budget passed by the General Assembly while I deliberate its impact on the people of Pennsylvania."
There has been no agreement on general pension reform, although pension reform for elected officials is making its way through the General Assembly.  The budget also does not include liquor privatization in any form.  Both pension reform and liquor privatization were  Gov. Corbett’s key priorities.

The Other Shoe Is Dropping-- The Fiscal Code Bill Makes Major Changes

The Senate Appropriations Committee late Monday made 66 pages of additions to House Bill 278 (Baker-R-Tioga), the Fiscal Code bill that follows to implement provisions in the General Fund budget.  But this year, the bill includes creation of new programs, some which have never passed either the Senate or House, provides for transfers from special funds and makes other changes.  
The Senate is expected to take final action on the Fiscal Code bill Tuesday which must then return to the House for a concurrence vote.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the major provisions--
Major Programs Included--
— Requires DEP to use funds to promulgate separate conventional and unconventional oil and gas regulations-- Senate Bill 1378 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson), House Bill 2350 (Causer-R-Cameron) were never considered by the full Senate, House)
— Creating new Rural Regional College-- Senate Bill 1000 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) which passed the Senate, House Bill 1701 (Causer-R-Cameron) which did not pass the House.
— Reduction in Small Games of Chance license fee from $2,000 to $500
— Education funding distribution to local school districts
— Escheats: Reduce years, Treasury Enforcement, Bankers modernization
— $10 increase in judicial surcharge
— City Revitalization and Improvement Zone Update: 3 Zones and 1 pilot in 2014, 2 Zones and 1 pilot in 2015
Transfer of Funds--
— Transfer $20 million from State Forest Timber leases
— Transfers $95 million from DCNR Oil and Gas Fund for additional “non-impact” gas leasing
— Transfers $8,672,845 from the Alternative Energy Investment Act
— Suspend transfer to Rainy Day Fund
— Horsemen transfers from Governor’s budget $17.6 million
— Transfers $225,000,000 of tobacco venture assets to PSERS
— Transfers $8,000,000 in excess law enforcement grants from Gaming Board to General Fund
— Transfers $5,676,000 from Gaming Capital money to General Fund for Pittsburgh Penguins
Other Changes--
— Establish H20 account to hold gaming money and Act 13
— Distributed tobacco payment to program
— Civil Service reforms authorize operational contracts
— Appropriates funds from DGS to caucus operations
— Includes caucus earmarks of funds
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council Monday expressed its opposition to including fundamentally changing the regulation of oil and gas operations in the Fiscal Code bill moving on parallel to the General Fund budget bill when the language was never been considered by either the full House or Senate.  Click Here for more information.
Click Here for the most recent version of House Bill 278.

Senate, House Republicans Approve $29 Billion Budget Relying Heavily On More Drilling

The Senate and House Republicans Monday approved, by party-line votes, a $29 billion General Fund budget with no tax increases, but which is based on $246.5 million in transfers from special funds, $95 million in additional “non-impact” natural gas leasing in State Parks and Forests, $20 million in DCNR timber sales and $75 million from a Philadelphia casino license that may or may not happen.
This compares to last year’s $28.5 billion budget and a $29.4 billion budget proposed by Gov. Corbett in February.
There has been no agreement on general pension reform, although pension reform for elected officials is making its way through the General Assembly.  It also does not include liquor privatization in any form.  Both pension reform and liquor privatization were Gov. Corbett’s key priorities.
Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks), the only Senate Republican to vote against the budget, said,  “While a number of extremely important services and priorities are funded in the state budget, I have serious objections to balancing the budget through the use of revenue from additional fracking on state forest lands. Balancing the books at the expense of our natural resources is the wrong approach and sets a dangerous precedent going forward.
“A number of environmental groups have expressed serious concerns regarding the impact of opening more state lands to fracking, and sportsmen’s groups have voiced fears of the effect the additional drilling activity could have on our delicate ecosystems and wildlife. Given the gravity of these issues, I could not in good conscience support the spending plan in its current form.”
Here’s a thumbnail of the new budget--
-- Transfer $17.6 million Horse Racing Fund for Dept. of Agriculture operations
Environmental Protection
-- DEP Operations - $12.4 million increase
-- Sewage Facilities Planning Grants - $500,000 increase
-- Delaware River Basin Commission - $500,000 cut
-- Transfer of $6.2 million from Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Fund
Conservation & Natural Resources
-- Heritage Parks Program - $2.75 million, up from $2.25 million last year
-- Transfer of $95 million from “non-impact drilling on DCNR Land
-- Transfer of $73 million from the Oil and Gas Fund for DCNR operations
-- Transfer of $20 million from State Forest Timber operations
-- NO transfer from Keystone Fund
Other Provisions
-- No transfer from the Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund
-- No suspension of tax credit programs like the farm conservation tax credit REAP or the Historic Preservation tax credit
Attorney General - $5 million increase
State Treasurer - $3.8 million increase
Auditor General - Flat funding
Judiciary - Flat funding
House - $1.9 million increase
Senate - $950,000 increase
Click Here for a copy of the line item spreadsheet.  Click Here for the budget balance and transfers sheet.
Sen. McIlhinney Lone Republican Voting Against Budget

Western PA Energy Development Authority Funding Workshops July 17, 23, 24

The Department of Environmental Protection invites non-profit corporations, schools, colleges and universities, and local governments, public corporations, for-profit businesses and authorities to attend one of three PA Energy Development Authority funding workshops in western Pennsylvania.
The workshops will be held from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m., at the following locations:
-- July 17 at the North Central Regional Planning and Development Commission Office, 651 Montmorenci Rd., Ridgway;
-- July 23 at the Cranberry Township Municipal Center, 2525 Rochester Road, Cranberry Township; and
-- July 24 at the Tom Ridge Environmental Education Center, 301 Peninsula Drive, Erie.
On June 12, Gov. Tom Corbett announced an estimated $12.5 million is now available through PEDA to provide funding for the deployment of advanced energy projects and for businesses interested in locating or expanding their alternative energy manufacturing or production operations in the Commonwealth.
PEDA anticipates awarding approximately $10 million for renewable energy projects such as wind, hydropower, solar, and biomass, along with demand management measures including energy recovery, energy efficiency, and load management.
This is the first financial assistance offering since 2010 by PEDA, an independent public financing authority created in 1982. The authority’s mission is to finance advanced energy projects in Pennsylvania.
The free informational workshops, all with the same content, are being held to assist potential applicants learn more about PEDA funding eligibility and requirements. Presentations will include a demonstration of the online eGrants application process. The deadline to apply for grant money is August 15.
Registration will close at 5 p.m. the day before each workshop. To register, please provide attendee’s name, organization, email, and workshop date to DEP Northwest Region Community Relations Coordinator Gary Clark by sending email to:, or by calling 814-332-6615.
For more information, visit the PA Energy Development Authority webpage.

PUC Offers Tips To Help Beat The Heat With #WaysToStayCool

As the heat and humidity settles in over Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission Monday reminded consumers to conserve energy with #WaysToStayCool.
Consumers can view the Summer Heat Wave fact sheet on the PUC website. Consumers also can follow the Commission on Twitter (@PA_PUC) for tips on how to reduce energy bills despite rising temperatures. Check out #WaysToStayCool to track pointers such as:
— On hot and humid days, set your thermostat at 78 degrees when you are home and 85 degrees or off when you are away for long periods of time;
— If you have window air conditioning units, close off rooms not in use.
— Make sure all air conditioner filters are clean and in good shape.
— Turn off non-essential appliances and as many lights as possible.
— Postpone using appliances that produce heat such as clothes dryers, dishwashers and stoves until after 7 p.m. These appliances also use significant amounts of electricity adding to the demand on an electric infrastructure that is already stressed during peak hours due to heat.
— Keep drapes closed and shades drawn. The amount of energy required to cool your home will be considerably less;
— Use ceiling fans to circulate the air, keeping rooms and you cooler;
— Replace filters monthly for maximum benefit and check air and return vents on a regular basis to keep circulation air paths clear; and
— Relax in rooms that do not receive direct sunlight.

PPL Utilities Proposes To Update Electric Meters

PPL Electric Utilities said Monday it has asked the Public Utility Commission to approve the replacement of its electric meters with new meters that will improve service to customers.
“Our electric meters are approaching the end of their useful life and we want to be proactive in replacing them,” said Robert M. Geneczko, vice president-Customer Services. “Technology has changed significantly since these meters were installed, and we’re looking forward to the expanded capabilities that will create benefits for our customers.”
The new meters will give customers access to additional energy-saving tools for their homes or businesses. They also will improve service reliability through better detection of power outages.
In addition, the new meters will bring PPL Electric Utilities into full compliance with state-mandated regulations on metering technology.
In a plan filed with the PUC Monday, PPL Electric Utilities proposes to replace its 1.4 million electric meters between 2017 and 2019. The estimated cost of the replacement, including all of the related communications and computer system infrastructure, is about $450 million.
Customers would not see an immediate effect on their bills. Charges for the new meters would be phased in over time beginning in 2015. Charges would then decrease after the installation period. The average residential customer will pay about $2.79 per month over the time the meters are in service.

PEC Opposes End Run of Legislative Process for Conventional Oil and Gas Well Regulation

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council is very concerned that the General Assembly is pulling an end run of its own rules by including language fundamentally changing the regulation of oil and gas operations via the Fiscal Code, which accompanies the state budget. This language has not yet been considered by either the full Senate or House.
John Walliser (Vice President, Legal & Government Affairs for PEC) issued the following statement:
“Inclusion of language requiring the alteration of regulations for conventional oil and gas wells in the Fiscal Code is an affront to transparency and the legislative process. Legislation has been introduced in both the Senate and House toward this objective, but neither has passed its respective chamber. There has not yet been adequate consideration of this language, nor sufficient time for public input. Conventional oil and gas well regulation is not a budgetary issue – it’s a public trust and protection issue. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council opposes any such action by the General Assembly, and we call on its members and the Governor to reject it.”
There is currently legislation in both the Pennsylvania Senate (Senate Bill 1378) and House of Representatives (House Bill 2350) that would require promulgation of different regulations across all environmental laws for conventional and unconventional oil & gas operations. Neither bill has been up for a full chamber vote.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council Friday asked Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) to respond to several significant concerns about Senate Bill 1378 and House Bill 2350 that would regulate conventional oil and gas wells differently than unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council currently opposes this legislation as it fails to properly account for necessary safeguards based on well design, siting, and techniques. The legislation also leaves uncertain whether conventional wells would be fully exempt from regulation until new guidance is developed and approved via the Environmental Quality Board.
Click Here for more background on the issue.

DEP Mine Reclamation Contracts in Centre, Clearfield Counties Totaling Nearly $900,000

The Department of Environmental Protection Monday announced it has awarded a $789,995 contract for the Beauty Camp Far West abandoned mine reclamation project in Burnside and Snow Shoe townships, Centre County, and a $105,583 contract for the Owens Cemetery project in Clearfield Borough, Clearfield County.
“These two projects are excellent examples of how DEP’s aggressive mine reclamation program is successfully reclaiming abandoned mine sites and eliminating harmful acid mine drainage, protecting private homeowners and restoring land to enhance recreational activities,” DEP Deputy Secretary for the Office of Active and Abandoned Mine Operations John Stefanko said.
The Beauty Camp Far West project will reclaim 53 acres of abandoned mine land, which includes an illegal waste dump. The reclamation work will include removing 20 tons of solid waste along with grading, drain installation, seeding and the planting of 5,600 trees. The rural site is located within State Game Lands 100 and has heavy site visitation for hunting and other recreational purposes.
The Owens Cemetery project will collect acid mine drainage currently entering residences along Fifth Street in Clearfield Borough in order to abate the hazard of a landslide. In conjunction with this project, a residence, garage, shed and retaining wall will be removed and backfilled with stone aggregate. A subsurface drain also will be installed. There are seven homes inside of or within 50 feet of the Owens Cemetery project work area and a total of 225 homes within 500 linear feet of the project.
The Beauty Camp Far West reclamation work will be done by Morgan’s Excavating LLC of Mount Union and will be completed by spring 2015. The Owens Cemetery reclamation work will be done by H&R Excavating Inc. of State College, and will be completed by the end of 2014.
Both contracts were awarded on a competitive basis and are being funded by a grant from the federal Office of Surface Mining. The federal fund is supported by a fee on the coal industry and is distributed to states as annual grants to reclaim mine sites that were abandoned prior to passage of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
For more information, call 717-783-2267.

Green Lodging Partnership Grows In Delaware Highlands

The Delaware Highlands Conservancy’s Green Lodging Partnership has grown to include 12 local lodgings in New York and Pennsylvania that have asked their guests to join them in the long-term protection of our quality of life.
The Conservancy welcomes the two newest partners, Villa Roma Resort in Callicoon, NY, and the Roebling Inn on the Delaware in Lackawaxen, PA.
The Partnership works as follows: A $2 donation automatically added to each reservation is contributed directly to the Conservancy to support its conservation mission and assure everything that brings tourists to the Upper Delaware River region is protected now and every time they visit in the future.  Guests may opt out, but very few choose to do so.
The properties in the partnership are committed to sustainable practices and environmental stewardship, and are actively working to enhance their efforts. Erik Karner, Operations Manager for Villa Roma Resort, reports that they have moved their entire property into a single stream recycling practice, with over 30 recycling containers on property.
“We are also actively addressing new green practices, which include cardboard and frying oil recycling as well as water saver fixtures at every fixture on property, and we continue to move forward with changing over light fixtures to LED. Wherever we can incorporate a green practice, Villa Roma strives to stay in the forefront.”
When asked about the Green Lodging Partnership, Erik commented, “It’s a win - win for every partner! Preservation of the beauty around us is the primary reason visitors come to the region, and guests are happy to be a part of contributing to such a worthy cause. Many guests compliment the partnership, and rest comfortably knowing that their contribution will ensure that their children and grandchildren will have the ability to enjoy the beauty you find here, as it is now, for many generations to come.”
“We joined the Green Lodging program because we do not take for granted the beauty and nature that surrounds us. Our delicious water is priceless. Our participation is a token of our appreciation for all the Delaware Highlands Conservancy accomplishes,” JoAnn and Don Jahn, owners of the Roebling Inn, explain.
In addition to Villa Roma and the Roebling Inn, the ten other forward-thinking properties in the Green Lodging Partnership include, in New York, ECCE Bed and Breakfast, Apple Pond Farm, Pepacton Cabins, and The Sullivan; and in Pennsylvania, Hotel Fauchere, James Manning House B&B, Ledges Hotel, The Settlers Inn, The Lodge at Woodloch, and Woodloch Pines Resort.
Find complete listings on the Delaware Highlands Green Lodging webpage.

Monday NewsClips

Click Here for PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Senate Republicans Move $29 Billion Budget Out Of Appropriations Committee, Relies More On Non-Impact Drilling

On Sunday evening, Senate Republicans amended House Bill 2328 (Adolph-R-Delaware) to create a $29 billion General Fund budget without any new taxes.  This compares to the House-passed $29.1 billion budget and last year’s $28.5 billion budget.
The Senate budget relies even more on additional “non-impact” drilling leasing of State Park and Forestry land by calling for the transfer of $95 million, not $75 million as House Republicans had proposed, from the Oil and Gas Fund.
This is in addition to at least $73 million from the Oil and Gas Fund to support DCNR’s State Parks and Forest administrative operations.
Beyond the transfer of $6.2 million from the Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants Fund there are NO TRANSFERS proposed from the Keystone Fund, Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund or other environmental funds.
There are still many details lacking, particularly amendments to the Fiscal Code which will include language related to any budget deals to adopt unrelated programs and information on which state tax credit programs will be suspended.
There has been no agreement on general pension reform or liquor privatization, Gov. Corbett’s key priorities.
The Senate is expected to have a floor debate on the budget bill on Monday.  Midnight June 30 is the deadline to have the state budget in place.
Here’s a thumbnail of what is known now--
-- Horse Racing Fund transfer of $17.6 million, same as last year
Environmental Protection
-- DEP Operations - $12.4 million increase
-- Sewage Facilities Planning Grants - $500,000 increase
-- Delaware River Basin Commission - $500,000 cut
Conservation & Natural Resources
-- Heritage Parks Program - $2.75 million, up from $2.25 million last year
Funding Sources:
-- Non-Impact Drilling On DCNR Land - $95 million
-- At least $73 million transferred from the Oil and Gas Fund to support DCNR operations
-- Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant Fund - $6.2 million
-- NO transfer from Keystone Fund or Underground Storage Tank Indemnification Fund
Attorney General - $5 million increase
State Treasurer - $3.8 million increase
Auditor General - Flat funding
Judiciary - Flat funding
House - $1.9 million increase
Senate - $950,000 increase
Click Here for a copy of the Senate line item spreadsheet.  Click Here for the Senate budget balance and transfers sheet.
Click Here for more on the House-passed budget.

Rep. Miller: House Passes Drinking Water Well Standards Bill

Pennsylvania Friday moved closer to joining 48 other states which have in place drinking water well construction standards, when the House passed House Bill 343, said Rep. Ron Miller (R-York), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and prime sponsor of the bill.
“More than three million Pennsylvanians rely on private wells for drinking water,” said Rep. Miller. “Our citizens have a right to clean drinking water, and my bill addresses the health risks associated with an unsafe water supply.”
House Bill 343 would require all new water wells to be constructed in accordance with standards established by the Environmental Quality Board. The legislation would also order decommissioning of all abandoned wells.
“I commend the local water and municipal authorities around the state that have taken into account the best interests of their residents and already established their own standards,” Rep. Miller added. “These affected counties and municipalities would be allowed to keep in place their current water well regulations.”
Rep. Miller also addressed misconceptions about the bill that have been used against him in the past and are frequently referred to by opponents.
“Nowhere in my bill are water metering, fees for private water usage, shutting off existing wells or regulation of water usage mentioned,” Rep. Miller pointed out. “The first attempt to move this legislation 12 years ago was shut down by a campaign of misinformation based on these beliefs, and these allegations are untrue.
“We are simply looking to protect our citizens’ right to safe drinking water going forward.”
A summary and House Fiscal Note are available.

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