Wednesday, March 22, 2017

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Wolf Strongly Opposes Trump Proposal To Eliminate LIHEAP Home Heating Assistance Funding

Gov. Wolf Tuesday expressed his strong opposition to President Trump’s budget proposal and the elimination of funding for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The President’s proposed budget would eliminate critical funding for services to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable citizens.
“The proposal to eliminate the LIHEAP program is cruel and will put many Pennsylvanians at risk,” said Gov. Wolf. “I vehemently oppose a federal budget cut to a program that helps keep our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians warm in the harsh winter months.”
LIHEAP provides assistance for home heating bills to keep approximately 345,000 citizens including the elderly, children, and individuals living with a disability warm and safe during the winter months. The program is available to both renters and homeowners.
The support comes in the form of a grant, so the individual does not have to repay assistance, and goes directly to their utility company or home heating fuel provider.
The Department of Human Services received approximately $185.5 million in federal funding for the 2016-17 LIHEAP season.
“The department’s hope is that the federal proposal is solely an ill-advised negotiating tactic, not a serious proposal.” said DHS Secretary Ted Dallas.
During the 2015-16 LIHEAP season, 345,246 households received cash benefits and 89,735 households received crisis benefits statewide totaling $159.5 million in assistance. These households each received an average of $462.
A table showing a county by county breakdown of the number of households participating in LIHEAP is available online.
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Agriculture: Trump Budget Cuts Could Harm PA Agriculture, Rural Communities

Agriculture: Trump Budget Cuts Could Harm PA Agriculture, Rural Communities

The Trump administration’s proposed 21 percent cut to the U.S. Department of Agriculture could cause significant harm to Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and rural communities, according to state Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
The cuts, he said, could affect everything from the safety of community water systems and the prospects for economic growth in rural communities to funding for important agricultural research projects.
“While there is still a great deal of detail that is unknown, what has been reported thus far is alarming,” said Secretary Redding. “The programs targeted for cuts or elimination in the President’s budget proposal may be considered ‘discretionary’ in Washington parlance, but the work those programs support on the ground in communities across Pennsylvania and the country are vitally important. This is not the way to put ‘America first.’ If anything, it puts our rural communities and some of our most vulnerable neighbors at a tremendous disadvantage and represents a threat to their livelihood.”
According to a blueprint document from the federal Office of Management and Budget, USDA is targeted for $4.7 billion in cuts under President Trump’s 2018 funding proposal.
The cuts would impact USDA Rural Development; the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children; the National Forest System; and the Agricultural Research Service, among other programs and agencies.
For example, the president’s proposal seeks almost $500 million in cuts from the Water and Wastewater loan and grant program. The program is the federal government’s only dedicated resource for financing water and sewer programs in communities of fewer than 10,000 people.
In 2016, the program supported 16 projects across Pennsylvania totaling nearly $55 million.
“At a time when we’re trying to bring new focus to restoring water quality in Pennsylvania, the cuts to the water and sewer grant and loan program undermines the work we’ve done,” said Redding. “For small and poor communities, this program has been invaluable to rebuilding the water infrastructure that families and businesses depend on. Many of our rural communities could not afford clean water without this program.”
The program is administered by USDA Rural Development. The agency’s Rural Business and Cooperative Service, which supported 73 projects in Pennsylvania last year to the tune of $30 million, would be cut by $95 million under the president’s budget.
Funding for WIC, which helps to provide nutrition and health services to low-income women, expecting mothers, and children, is facing a $200 million cut – roughly equal to what Pennsylvania received through the program in 2016.
Based on USDA figures from 2014, there are more than 275,000 infants and children, alone, in Pennsylvania who are eligible for the program
“USDA has been a vital partner of the commonwealth, but this budget threatens key mission areas of the department, and that could have harmful consequences to us here in Pennsylvania and to our citizens,” said Redding. “We intend to work with our congressional delegation and others to underscore the importance of these investments in our state so that we can continue to grow our agricultural economy and our rural communities.”
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Wolf Strongly Opposes Trump Proposal To Eliminate LIHEAP Heating Assistance Funding

Thursday, March 16, 2017

StateImpact: DEP: Federal Budget Cuts Will Have Immediate, Devastating Effect In PA

StateImpact’s Marie Cusick reported Thursday Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell sent a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt saying the cuts to funding proposed by the Trump administration will have an “immediate and devastating effect” in Pennsylvania.
“The [proposed] 30 percent cut in federal funding would significant reduce popular, successful, bipartisan programs that protect public health and the environment, and lead to economic development,” said McConnell.
As examples, he pointed to cuts in the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality, Brownfields, Air Quality and Radon education efforts as having a direct impact on public health, cut the number of inspections, lengthen permit review times and inhibit future economic development.
With respect to the elimination of all funding for the Chesapeake Bay Program, McDonnell said the move would “abandon farmers,” because much-needed support could no longer be offered.
McDonnell also expressed his disappointment at recent statements by Pruitt calling into question the scientific consensus on climate change.
“It is beyond disappointing that the nation’s top environmental official would call into question the overwhelming scientific consensus and undermine progress of this critical subject.
“Pennsylvania has already experienced a long-term warming of nearly two degrees over the past century, and this trend is expected to accelerate.  By 2050, Pennsylvania is predicted to be an average of 5.4 degrees F warmer than it was in 2000.
“In the face of this reality, foot dragging and hand wringing is not an option, we need decisive action.”
DEP relies of federal funds for 30 percent of its budget.
These potential federal funding cuts come on top of a 40 percent cut in state General Fund support for DEP over the last 14 years and a now 25 percent cut in its staff.
The cuts proposed in the Trump budget would cripple DEP’s key environmental programs, especially since they are occurring on top of the state cuts.
DEP has had no choice but to raise permit review fees to make up for lost state revenue in the past.  It may not have any choice but to further increase fees on local governments and businesses to make up for this new loss of federal revenue if these programs are to survive.
  Text Of Letter
The text of the McDonnell’s letter to EPA follows--
Dear Administrator Pruitt:
I am writing to express my concern about the impacts of substantial cuts to the Environmental Protection (EPA) on the citizens and business of Pennsylvania.  
Slashing the EPA budget-- including a potential 30 percent reduction in the funding we use to carry out responsibilities under federal environmental laws-- would have an immediate and devastating effect on my state’s ability to ensure that Pennsylvania’s air is safe to breathe, our water is safe to drink, and our economy prospers.
Put simply, cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency singal the Trump administration’s disregard for its responsibility to protect the health and safety of American citizens.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) relies on federal funding to administer a variety of mandated programs which protect the safety of coal miners, address lead contamination, prevent air pollution which contributes to respiratory diseases, and redevelop contaminated industrial sites.
Over the last decade, DEP has worked to further its mission, even as constrained state and federal budgets have allowed for fewer inspections and created significant permitting backlogs.
A 30 percent cut in federal funding would significantly reduce popular, successful, bipartisan programs that project public health and the environment, and lead to economic development.  Cutting these programs will:
-- Risk Safe Water. In the Safe Drinking Water program, these cuts would mean at least 30 percent fewer inspections at the Commonwealth’s 8,500 public water systems, hampering our ability to detect contaminants like lead, water-borne pathogens, and putting Pennsylvania’s 10.7 million water customers at risk.
-- Diminish Local Water Quality.  The proposed cuts to the federally funded portion of the Clean Water Bureau budget would mean cutting at least 850 inspections from the 6,144 inspections that ensure that sewage plants, industrial wastewater discharges, and construction sites are not threatening the water quality of Pennsylvanians downstream.  Reductions in federal funds will also lengthen permit issuance timelines, hampering important economic development projects in Pennsylvania.
--  Abandon Farmers. Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay program-- which you recently acknowledged as a model of federal/state partnerships, and is starting to show real results in curbing pollution to the Bay-- would see funding completely eliminated.  This program would no longer be able to provide much-needed support to Pennsylvania small farmers and local governments to improve their local water quality.
-- Stifle Job Creation. Pennsylvania’s Brownfields program cleans up contaminated properties for redevelopment, promoting economic development and preserving green space.  Since 1995, almost 5,000 brownfields have been cleaned up, leading to almost 100,000 jobs created or retained.  A 30 percent cut to this program could inhibit brownfields from being returned to productive use for new and expanding business and industry in Pennsylvania.
-- Allow Harmful Pollutants To Poison. A 30 percent or more cut to the Bureau of Air Quality would limit air monitoring for harmful pollutants such as volatile organic compounds, mercury, and particulate matter, and have a negative impact on the timeline for review of air quality permits which companies need in order to start operations or expand.
-- Expose Children To Radon Gas.  Proposed cuts included the complete elimination of funding to help protect residents from radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States.  Pennsylvania has one of the most serious radon problems in the country and the proposed cuts would result in the elimination of public education efforts and distribution of free radon test kits for new parents.
-- Suppress Environmental Justice. Proposed budget cuts would eliminate the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which exists to ensure that Americans, regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, have meaningful involvement in the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws and policies.  Closing this program shows a startling disrespect for minority and economically disadvantaged Americans.
These budget cuts do not reduce any of the responsibilities that DEP has to the people of Pennsylvania, but does decrease the resources available to fulfill those responsibilities.  These cuts, if enacted, would harm businesses seeking permits, and harm residents’ clean water, air, and land.
In addition, I would like to address your recent comments regarding climate change.
It is beyond disappointing that the nation’s top environmental official would call into question the overwhelming scientific consensus and undermine progress of this critical subject.
The changing climate is the most significant environmental and social threat facing the world, and emissions from the United States are a significant cause.
Pennsylvania has already experienced a long-term warming of nearly two degrees over the past century, and this trend is expected to accelerate.  By 2050, Pennsylvania is predicted to be an average of 5.4 degrees F warmer than it was in 2000.
In the face of this reality, foot dragging and hand wringing is not an option, we need decisive action.
I urge you to take seriously your responsibility to provide leadership in the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions-- not to spread doubt and falsehoods about the existence of the problem.
Pennsylvania has benefited from a long partnership with the federal government to address environmental concerns, which has resulted in great improvements to the health, quality of life, and economic prosperity of Pennsylvania residents.
Over its nearly 50-year history, the agency you seem intent on hobbling helped save the bald eagle from extinction by regulating pesticides, reduced corrosive and toxic acid rain, helped protect the ozone layer, and curtailed tailpipe emissions which contribute to smog.
In recent weeks, you’ve spoken of solutions that come from federal-state relationships.  We urge the Trump administration not to turn its back on those very federal-state partnerships that have produced these many benefits.
We hope to continue to work with EPA to protect Pennsylvania’s public health and support economic prosperity.
Thank you for your consideration of our joint responsibilities.
Patrick McDonnell
Acting Secretary
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
A copy of the letter is available online.
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ECOS: President’s Proposed EPA Budget Cuts Will Adversely Affect State Environmental Agencies