March 12, 2015

Budget Hearings: Cracker Plant Efforts Continue, PUC Questioned On Budget Increase

Here are several highlights from the House Appropriations Committee budget hearings Wednesday--
-- Shell Cracker Plant: Acting DCED Secretary Dennis Davin told the House Appropriations Committee Wednesday the Wolf Administration supports the development of the Shell natural gas liquids cracking plant being considered for a site in Beaver County “in a very big way.”  In response to a question Davin said he did not think the proposed natural gas severance tax or the other tax changes proposed by Gov. Wolf would have an impact on that final decision by the company.
-- Public Utility Commission: PUC Chair Robert Powelson told the House Appropriations Committee the PUC will not “cut corners on safety” when it comes to regulating ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lift.  He said they must abide by Pennsylvania’s rules, noting the companies are now starting to work with the Commission on issues.
Rep. Robert Godshall (R-Montgomery), Majority Chair of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, questioned Powelson closely about the PUC’s proposed 6 percent increase in its budget saying the Commission has the seventh highest paid staff in the country.
Powelson said the complement of the PUC and the cost structure remains the same, but there are costs, like pensions which will increase 25 percent in the coming year, which are beyond his control.  Increasing the budget cap on the Commission would allow the PUC to collect $72 million, rather than the current $53 million.
-- Reducing Pipeline Impacts: Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said Wednesday DEP is forming a task force to look at ways of promoting cooperation and reducing the environmental impacts of the 25,000 to 30,000 miles of natural gas pipelines expected to be developed in Pennsylvania over the next few years.  But, he was not interested in expanding DEP regulations over pipelines.
Quigley also said Gov. Wolf wants to maintain the existing Act 13 drilling impact fee at its “highest level,” and the environmental programs it funds, including grants to local governments.
Written testimony and a video of each hearing will be posed on the Republican House Appropriations Committee webpage.
Testimony Available
Christopher Craig, Acting State Treasurer