May 26, 2017

May 29 PA Environment Digest Now Available

The May 29 PA Environment Digest is now available.  Here are just a few of the headlines--

The PA Growing Greener Coalition Wednesday applauded the introduction of legislation-- Senate Bill 705-- that establishes an updated framework for renewed and increased investment in the state’s Growing Greener program.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell Thursday released a letter he sent to Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation warning that the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to environmental protection and clean energy programs will threaten Pennsylvania residents and businesses.

President Trump Tuesday released a more detailed budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2018 recommending severe cuts to the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency, among other areas.
If enacted, these reductions would result in the elimination of funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay Program, and other geographic watershed programs, as well as the National Estuary Program and critical water quality research and support grants that go directly to the states.

Gov. Tom Wolf Monday presented Governor’s Awards for Excellence to 10 state Bureau of Forestry wildfire fighters for their role in combatting a forest blaze last spring that spread for 15 days, threatening lives and property on the Pike-Monroe county line.

Four environmental programs from Western Pennsylvania were honored by Dominion and the PA Environmental Council for their innovation and effectiveness in making a positive impact on the environment at a special Western PA Environmental Awards program in Pittsburgh Wednesday.

By Diane Huskinson, Stroud Water Research Center
Earlier this month, 38 Master of Landscape Architecture students from the University of Pennsylvania visited Stroud Water Research Center in Chester County to learn about protecting clean fresh water through land use and best management practices (BMPs).

In recognition of Earth Day, GIANT and MARTIN’s Food Stores donated 25 benches made from recycled plastic bags to schools in 15 counties participating in Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful's Litter Free School Zone Program.

Exelon Corporation Wednesday announced its Three Mile Island [Dauphin County, PA]  and Quad Cities [Illinois) nuclear plants did not clear in the latest PJM capacity auction, highlighting the challenge nuclear energy continues to face without compensation for its ability to produce electricity without harmful carbon and air pollution and to contribute to grid resilience.

The Department of Environmental Protection is now accepting applications for Alternative Fuels Incentive Grants.  The are two rounds of grant deadlines-- July 14 and December 15.  (formal notice)

The Indiana Gazette recently reported the Indiana County commissioners gave their blessing to a new Sustainable Economic Development Task Force focused on developing regional initiatives in the areas of clean energy, sustainable agriculture, eco-tourism, energy efficiency and the emerging field of using green chemistry to transform manufacturing.

New and experienced hikers can again pick their pace and path through Pennsylvania's bountiful outdoors in more than 50 hikes planned across the state during Hiking Week 2017.

The PA Parks and Forests Foundation released a new video about the value of volunteerism in Pennsylvania’s State Parks and Forests to the individuals volunteering and the invaluable contribution they make to improving and maintaining recreational opportunity across the state.

By Jennifer Miller, College of Health & Human Development, Penn State University
Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly consider parks, trails and open space to be an essential component of the health care system, according to a Penn State University study.

To read the Digest, visit:  Click Here to view or print the entire Digest.

PA Environment Digest is edited by David E. Hess, former Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and is published as a service of Crisci Associates.

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Sen. Scarnati: Final Approval Issued For PA’s Rural Regional Community College

Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) Friday announced the Department of Education has given final approval for the establishment of the Rural Regional Community College of Northern Pennsylvania.
Sen. Scarnati hailed the decision as a vital step in bringing affordable, accessible education alternatives to the area.  
This endeavor began in 2014 when Sen. Scarnati introduced legislation in the Senate to create a first-of-its kind rural regional college to provide post-secondary educational opportunities to underserved residents in Northcentral and Northwest Pennsylvania.  
Act 126 of 2014 was signed into law and since that time area legislators, education and business leaders, the College Board of Trustees and the Department of Education have been working together to develop the college’s operating and financial plans.
“Access to the Rural Regional College is critical to providing new career opportunities for students and improving the economy,” Sen. Scarnati said.  “I’d like to thank the Board of Trustees of the Rural Regional College, all those who worked so diligently to develop the approved plan, and especially my former Senate colleague and current Board Member Senator Mary Jo White, for helping to make this idea a reality.  I am very pleased with the major progress that has taken place as we work toward opening the college this fall.”
“This will be the first community college to offer greatly needed higher educational opportunities to Northwestern Pennsylvania,” Sen. Scarnati continued. “Thanks to input by education, business and community leaders, we can help area residents receive the training and education they need.”
Sen. Scarnati explained that the new college will offer two-year associate degrees, as well as training and certificate programs.
Curriculum of the college will be determined by the Board of Trustees, based upon the future workforce needs of the designated region of Cameron, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, McKean, Potter, Venango and Warren counties.
“I thank the Pennsylvania Department of Education for working with me and my colleagues to establish the college,” Sen. Scarnati stated.  “This final approval brings us one step closer to providing rural communities in this area with education and training close to home and at an affordable cost.”

Friday PA Capitol Digest NewsClips

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May 25, 2017

Auditor General DePasquale: PA School Employees Retirement Fund Must Cut Fees, Improve Operations

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale Thursday said his performance audit of the Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) found the need for legislative reform and operational improvements that include drastically reducing the amount of investment fees paid.
The 151-page audit report, which covers July 1, 2013 to March 31, 2017, includes 17 findings on six issues and makes 37 recommendations — 26 directed at PSERS, 10 directed at the General Assembly and one for the governor’s Office of Administration.
“One of my most significant concerns from this audit is that PSERS doesn’t seem to think spending more than $416 million on investment management fees in 2016 is a big deal,” DePasquale said. “It is mind-numbing that they want a pat on the back for reducing the fees from $441 million in 2015.
“There should be a never-ending focus on driving the fees paid by PSERS to the absolute lowest level possible,” he said, noting, “Every investment fee dollar saved remains in the pension fund for the benefit of the retirees and the accrued savings of the taxpayers.”
The audit also highlights the need for both the Public School Employees’ Retirement Code and the Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act to be legislatively broadened.  
Additionally, auditors noted the need for PSERS to improve some of its internal operations in order to protect the long-term interests of the system’s members who consistently pay into the fund, school employers, and the taxpayers.
As with many public retirement systems, PSERS faces a large unfunded liability. In 2000 PSERS was overfunded by 24 percent and remained above 100 percent funded until 2003. As of June 30, 2016, PSERS was down to 57.3 percent funded with an unfunded liability of $43 billion; and assets of $49.2 billion invested.  
“Pension reform has been discussed in Harrisburg for decades,” DePasquale said. “PSERS and the State Employees’ Retirement System, which I am also auditing, are the state’s two largest public pension plans and, collectively manage $78 billion worth of assets. My recommendations in this audit, and on SERS this summer, should help improve the operations of both systems and reduce the reliance on taxpayers.”
Click Here for the full announcement and a copy of the audit.

Online Retailer Wayfair To Begin Collecting PA Sales Tax, Joining Amazon, Vistaprint

The Department of Revenue Wednesday announced online retailer Wayfair Inc. will begin collecting the state’s 6 percent sales tax.
“Consumers are increasingly buying online and the Department of Revenue is adapting with agreements like this that benefit taxpayers and the commonwealth,” said Acting Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell.
Wayfair, the 16th largest online retailer in the U.S., began collecting sales tax on purchases in Pennsylvania on May 1. The agreement is expected to provide millions of dollars in sales tax collections for the commonwealth in the future.
Pennsylvania also recently concluded agreements with Amazon and Vistaprint to collect sales tax.
“Agreements with online retailers to collect the state sales tax help to level the playing field across the retail industry and will provide additional revenue as the commonwealth works to address a $3 billion budget deficit,” said Hassell. “I thank Wayfair for working with us.”
Last year the department announced an agreement with online home-sharing company Airbnb to collect the state’s hotel occupancy tax.