February 28, 2014

March 3 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The March 3 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

Analysis: Time To Stop The Slow Budget Bleeding At DEP, Fund Real Restoration Efforts

This week the Senate and House agency by agency hearings on Gov. Corbett’s FY 2014-15 budget request ended and the real work of putting together a state budget by the June 30 deadline begins.
On the plus side of the ledger, the hearings spotlighted the additional $30 million DEP and DCNR received as a result of the transportation funding package for the Dirt and Gravel Road Program, the $45 million in additional funding for State Park and Forest infrastructure investments in the Enhance Penn’s Woods proposal, the projected $75 million from additional “no additional surface impacts” leasing of natural gas rights on State Park and State Forest land, continued General Fund support for county conservation districts and $10 million in continued funding for the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) farm conservation tax credit program.
Also on the positive side is the additional conservation funding provided by the Marcellus Shale Legacy Fund based on drilling impact fees: $42.8 million for the Growing Greener Program, $9.8 million for the H2O Water Infrastructure Program, $9.8 million for PennVEST, $3.9 million for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund and $15.7 million to the Commonwealth Financing Authority for a variety of other programs.
DCNR made out well in the FY 2014-15 budget proposal which, if adopted, will not result in the loss of any staff.  The transfer of $117.4 million from the Oil and Gas Fund, fed by royalties on natural gas drilling on State Forest land, to pay for day-to-day operations is troubling because it takes away from spending on longer-term investments.  
The Enhance Penn’s Woods proposal and new money proposed to be invested in State Park and Forest infrastructure tends to blunt some of that concern, although not completely.  The proposal to lease additional natural gas rights without additional surface impacts does as well, but the full details of the plan need to be laid out for all to see and evaluate openly.
But once again, DEP has taken a budget hit which requires the agency to lose another 66 positions bringing the total of positions lost since FY 2002-03 to 548 or 17 percent of its staff.  Unlike Gov. Rendell, Gov. Corbett has not proposed to furlough any DEP staff, but clearly no organization can suffer a 17 percent cut in staff and not have that reflect in its overall performance.
The Corbett budget does propose to increase DEP’s line items related to personnel and general operations by $10 million to cover its cost-to-carry, again unlike Gov. Rendell who cut DEP’s budget every year for eight years.
So where does this leave us?
While the last three budget years have brought resources back to DEP and DCNR programs, the fact remains that $2.3 billion in funding has been cut or diverted from environmental programs over the last 12 years, starting with the record budget and staff cuts and staff furloughs by Gov. Rendell.
Gov. Rendell's share of these cuts/diversions is $1.4 billion.  Gov. Corbett's share is now $766.5 million.
At the very least, now is the time to stop the slow bleeding of DEP staff positions that has occurred every year for the last 12 years.
It is also time for additional resources to be invested in environmental restoration programs-- watershed improvement, abandoned mine drainage abatement and other programs that make a real, measurable difference in environmental quality.
A good start would be to use a major portion of revenue from any new leasing of natural gas rights under State Parks and Forests, assuming the details can be worked out, to support restoration efforts, including our commitments to clean up our rivers and streams in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.
While addressing the backlog of of infrastructure needs in State Parks and Forests is important, Enhance Penn’s Woods and a portion of the revenue from new leasing with be a good step forward.
The fact is, Pennsylvania has a legal obligation under the federal Clean Water Act to take the necessary steps so our rivers, streams and lakes meet at least minimum water quality standards and we have the experience and the award-winning programs, like the original Growing Greener, to do just that.
Now is the time for a more thorough debate on these issues and to show the kind of leadership Pennsylvania has had in the past to deal with our most pressing need-- clean water.

Friday NewsClips

Media Groups Join Right To Know Law Case
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February 26, 2014

Democrat Tom Wolf Sweeps Third Poll This Week

Gov. Corbett has a negative 36 - 52 percent approval rating, nearly matching his worst net score ever, and trails several possible Democratic challengers, especially York County businessman Tom Wolf, who tops the Republican incumbent 52 - 33 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday.
Voters say 55 - 34 percent that Gov. Corbett does not deserve reelection, the independent.
Matchups against other Democratic contenders show:
-- U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz leads Corbett 44 - 38 percent;
-- State Treasurer Rob McCord is ahead 43 - 36 percent;
-- Former DEP Secretary John Hanger gets 40 percent to Corbett's 37 percent;
-- Former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty gets 40 percent to Corbett's 38 percent; and
-- Former State Auditor General Jack Wagner over Corbett 44 - 37 percent.
Corbett gets a big negative 31 - 58 percent approval rating for his handling of the economy and jobs, with negative grades for his handling of other issues:
-- 32 - 56 percent for handling taxes;
-- 29 - 51 percent for handling health care;
-- 36 - 49 percent for handling energy and the environment;
-- 30 - 61 percent for handling education;
-- 29 - 60 percent for handling government spending;
-- 37 - 41 percent for handling transportation; and
-- 24 - 32 percent for handling abortion.
Voters say 49 - 41 percent that Corbett has strong leadership qualities, but are divided 43 - 43 percent on whether he is honest and trustworthy. He does not care about their needs and problems, voters say 55 - 36 percent.

Wednesday NewsClips

Tom Wolf now leads his Democratic rivals for governor with 40 percent of Democrats saying the support him in a Harper Poll released Monday.  No sure was next with 19 percent, Allyson Schwartz with 14 percent, Rob McCord at 8 percent, Jack Wagner and John Hanger are tied at 7 percent and Kathleen McGinty has 6 percent.
A new Franklin & Marshall Poll released Wednesday also has Tom Wolf leading with 36 percent, Schwartz had 9 percent, McCord had 3 percent, Hanger and McGinty were tied at 1 percent.  Jack Wagner was not included in this poll.
Amazing what $1.5 million in ads will do and $10 million of your own money.
Court Order Ends Harrisburg Receivership
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February 25, 2014

Tom Wolf Leads Pack Of Democratic Hopefuls

Tom Wolf now leads his Democratic rivals for governor with 40 percent of Democrats saying the support him in a Harper Poll released Feb. 24.  No sure was next with 19 percent, Allyson Schwartz with 14 percent, Rob McCord at 8 percent, Jack Wagner and John Hanger are tied at 7 percent and Kathleen McGinty has 6 percent.

Tuesday NewsClips

Rendell Kicks Off Law & Society Week At Philadelphia CC
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Corrections Responds To U.S. Department Of Justice Mental Health Services Review

The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Monday issued the findings of its investigation of the Pennsylvania prison system's mental health services for seriously mentally ill inmates.
The statewide investigation began on May 31, 2013, and stemmed from the U.S. DOJ's investigation of mental health services at SCI Cresson. SCI Cresson closed on June 30, 2013.
Since the U.S. DOJ announced its original investigation of SCI Cresson in December 2011, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel has emphasized that, "The DOC and the U.S. DOJ are working toward the same goal – appropriate delivery of mental health services."
The report represents only the U.S. DOJ's conclusions and pertains to the period spanning from January 2012 through June 2013. U.S. DOJ and DOC will mutually discuss the U.S. DOJ's findings in coming weeks.
"Because the report focuses on data gathered from January 2012 through June 2013, it does not reflect the reality of how the Pennsylvania prison system currently operates or provides services to inmates," Wetzel said. "It also is not representative of the services and work that the DOC's dedicated mental health and correctional staff provides."
Since 2011, one of the priorities of DOC has been to enhance treatment for mentally ill offenders. The growth of inmate populations with mental illness has been a tremendous challenge for prison systems across the country.
Prior to the U.S. DOJ's expanded investigation, the DOC had already begun significant improvements in the area of enhancing services for mentally ill offenders. Pennsylvania's DOC has worked diligently to develop and implement these transformative initiatives to provide effective programs and enhanced services for the mentally ill.
Many of these programs are innovations that the DOC was the first to develop and implement and they have had tremendous results:
-- Solitary Confinement for SMI Offenders: The development of new treatment units and implementation of more robust misconduct diversionary procedures for inmates with SMI has resulted in a steep decline in the number of inmates with SMI who are currently housed in restricted units for disciplinary reasons. Currently, less than 150 inmates who are diagnosed as SMI are housed in restrictive housing units, down from nearly 850 inmates previously.
-- Vera Segregation Reduction Project: The DOC has partnered with the nationally recognized Vera Institute of Justice. Vera's Segregation Reduction Project will examine the DOC's use of segregation for the overall inmate population and develop strategies to safely reduce the use of costly segregation through training, policy modifications and other initiatives.
-- Enhanced Classification and Treatment for Seriously Mentally Ill Offenders: The DOC has updated its definition of Serious Mental Illness (SMI) to better capture and track those individuals who suffer from the most severe forms of mental illness, requiring the most treatment services. Because the new definition is diagnosis driven, it better identifies individuals in need of services and ensures that they are connected to needed resources. For those inmates who require intensive treatment, a recovery model individual treatment plan is generated – with the inmate's participation – to identify and isolate certain treatment goals that the inmate and treatment team will strive to meet together.
-- Certified Peer Support Specialist Program: DOC's certified peer support specialist program has trained over 300 inmates to provide support and counseling services to other inmates on a variety of issues, including participation in mental health treatment.
-- Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Training: CIT training, first used to educate police officers to respond mental health issues that they encounter in the community, has been modified by the DOC into an extensive multi-day training course to provide our correctional officers with an understanding of the ways in which mental illness may affect the inmates they deal with daily, and provide them with skills to deescalate crisis situations. Trainings occur several times per year and classes typically include dozens of officers and corrections personnel. Those officers whose position within institutions put them in close contact with the mentally ill have been prioritized for this critical training. The DOC is planning to offer this training to the Pennsylvania county prisons in the future.
-- Mental Health First Aid Training: The DOC will train all employees in mental health first aid by the end of fiscal year 2014. The training equips employees to understand, recognize and respond to the symptoms of mental illness.
-- Improved Treatment Units: The DOC developed several new specialized units to address the different treatment needs of inmates with SMI, including Secure Residential Treatment Units, Residential Treatment Units and Short Term Residential Treatment Units. The variety of treatment units ensures that inmates are receiving individualized care specific to their particular needs regardless of their security level. Additionally, inmates in specialized units receive – at a minimum, and often far in excess of – 20 hours of structured and unstructured programs out of their cells each week; for those inmates in general population, treatment units have even greater out-of-cell program opportunities.
-- MHM performance contracting: The contract with MHM Services for inmate mental health care, includes performance-based incentives and penalties. The contract provides incentives for positive outcomes for offenders to further the DOC's goal that inmates leaving the system are better than when they entered it. The contract incentivizes treatment that reduces misconduct and mental health recommitment rates for the mentally ill. Additionally, MHM will be required to maintain or exceed an established baseline medication compliance rate.
-- Partnering with NAMI, Rutgers, etc.: The DOC has partnered with various advocacy groups and leading researchers in the field of mental illness to analyze current systems and develop initiatives to improve mental health care. Partners include the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and Rutgers University.
-- Development of Suicide Prevention Committees: Each state correctional institution has instituted a Suicide Prevention Committee, which includes a multi-disciplinary team of mental health and security personnel, to review serious incidents of self-harm, attempted and completed suicides. These committees will monitor policy compliance, conduct training exercises and make recommendations for improvements to policy and procedure.
-- Trauma Screening: All female inmates received at SCI Muncy will undergo a thorough trauma screening upon their reception to the institution and be connected with appropriate follow-up services.

PA Courts Distribute $455 Million In 2013, State Receives $207 Million

Pennsylvania’s courts distributed more than $455 million in fees, fines, costs and restitution in 2013. Most of the money was received by the state, local governments and victims of crime; a small portion of the money collected was distributed to various entities such as schools, libraries and tax agencies.
“The judiciary’s first priority is the fair and timely administration of justice, but after cases are adjudicated, it is important to enforce the collection of court-ordered fees, fines, costs and restitution,” said Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille. “We continue to enhance court collections by working closely with the local officials responsible for collecting the money and through the development of new technology such as PAePay.”
PAePay is an application that allows defendants to conveniently make payments via the Internet with a debit or credit card. A record $62 million in court fees, fines, costs and restitution was collected through PAePay in 2013.
“By providing this convenient way to settle court-ordered payments, defendants can avoid facing arrest, contempt of court proceedings, driver’s license suspensions and/or additional collection agency fees,” Chief Justice Castille said.
The state received $207 million of the total $455 million collected by the courts. Counties received $156.7 million and municipalities $51.3 million to support local government programs. Crime victims received a total of $35.3 million in restitution, and various entities received $4.3 million. (See court distribution tables)
In addition to PAePay, the Pennsylvania’s court case management systems provide several features to improve collections. Among those are the ability to generate customized court payment delinquency letters and to share information with PennDOT for suspension of the driver’s licenses of defendants failing to pay court costs related to traffic violations.
The case management systems also have the ability share defendant case financial data with outside collection agencies, which are currently used by 37 counties.
The money distributed to support government programs and crime victims came from fees, fines, costs and restitution collected by 533 magisterial district courts and the criminal divisions of the 67 Common Pleas courts and Philadelphia Municipal Court.
It excluded money collected from civil cases processed by Pennsylvania’s Common Pleas courts and cases processed by the Traffic Division of Philadelphia Municipal Court. These courts have yet to be integrated on a statewide case management system.

February 21, 2014

Feb. 24 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The Feb. 24 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Click Here to print entire Digest.

PA Supreme Court Rejects Act 13 Court Decision Reconsideration Motion

The PA Supreme Court Friday rejected the Corbett Administration’s request for reconsideration of the Court’s landmark decision in December which declared unconstitutional provisions of the Act 13 Marcellus Shale drilling law relating to local regulation of drilling operations.
The Court also invalidated provisions of the law establishing setbacks from rivers and streams, the requirement for DEP to evaluate the impacts to public resources and restrictions on the right of municipalities to appeal DEP permit decisions.
The Court also directed Commonwealth Court to re-hear complaints by municipalities that Act 13 prevents doctors from telling patients of the health impacts of chemicals used in natural gas well fracking operations.
The significance of the ruling is not that it declared several provisions of Act 13 unconstitutional, but in the legal basis for the opinion-- Article I, Section 27 of Pennsylvania’s Constitution, the Environmental Rights Amendment-- even though technically this basis it is not considered a legal precedent because three rather than four justices agreement with this argument.
The reconsideration was opposed by the original challengers to Act 13 on the grounds the state, the Public Utilities Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection failed to provide any “compelling reasons” for the extraordinary legal relief.
“The Corbett Administration wanted a do-over.  The Supreme Court said no,” said Jordan Yeager, one of the lead attorneys on the case.  “Act 13 violated our fundamental Constitutional rights.  The Court’s landmark ruling stands and we are all safer as a result.”
“The State has heard the final word on Act 13 from the highest authority.  Once again the primary rights of clean air, water, and a healthy environment for the people of the Commonwealth have been reiterated,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and one of the original petitioners in the case.  “We hope the Governor and his administration can now finally accept that they were wrong in their attempt to undo the Court’s deliberations.  The Governor should listen to what the Court has said and realize that the Court’s thoughtful, extensive set of opinions instructs all levels of government to fully adhere to their ruling.  This is a great day for Pennsylvania.”
DEP Chief Counsel Dennis Whitaker told the DEP Citizens Advisory Council in January the Department’s first priority in responding to the Court decision was reviewing the changes that might need to the proposed Chapter 78 regulations and Oil and Gas Program procedures since the Court’s decision dealt specifically with that program.
He noted the stream and other setback provisions the Court struck down in Act 13 would likely remain in force because the Department has sufficient authority under the Clean Streams Law and other statutes to establish setbacks.
He also said Gov. Corbett called on drillers to meet waterway setbacks even though they were struck down by the Court.
More broadly, Whitaker said his office has started a review of all DEP programs to determine whether the previous harms and benefits tests programs have incorporated into regulations and permit reviews over the years as a result of previous Environmental Rights Amendment court decisions would need to be changed as a result of the decision.
At his budget hearing in the Senate Tuesday, DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo also said other statutory authority exists to enforce waterway setbacks. He added the requirements of the Environmental Rights Amendment are already included in many of DEP’s permit programs, but they are working through the issues.
Reference Link:
Analysis: Landmark Court Opinion Turns Environmental Regulation In PA Upside Down