Governor Josh Shapiro’s inaugural budget address delivered Tuesday in the hall of the state House of Representatives was an enthusiastic endorsement of Pennsylvanians’ constitutional right “to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”
Coming some four months after his decisive defeat of his explicitly far-right, pro-corporate polluter opponent, the governor outlined an ambitious but achievable plan to secure the future of our Commonwealth’s environment for our children, grandchildren, and future generations.
The governor proposed a 9 percent increase for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). While that figure may not mean much to the average Pennsylvanian, among other benefits, it translates to the hiring of 15 additional full-time staffers at DEP for environmental program management and environmental protection operations.
The proposed budget also includes an 8.9 percent increase for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). Like with DEP, this would provide for 15 new full-time employees at DCNR.
These much-needed state employees are tasked with important responsibilities such as monitoring water quality, inspecting dams, testing soil samples, and ensuring those who have polluted our environment are the ones cleaning it up. They will staff our state parks and forests, ensuring all Pennsylvanians can access these treasured public lands. After years of devastating budget cuts, it is critical that the agencies charged with protecting our air, land, and water are fully equipped to hold polluters accountable.
All students deserve to have safe, healthy learning environments. So we’re excited to see the governor propose a $100 million investment for addressing environmental problems, including lead pipes that endanger student health and learning. This is particularly important for school districts with aging buildings that serve lower-income families and children of color.
Perhaps most significantly, Pennsylvania will begin to realize the benefits of participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Governor Shapiro’s budget proposal provides for implementation of the CO2 Budget Trading Program and utilization of $663 million of revenue to be invested in greenhouse gas abatement, energy efficiency, and clean/renewable energy programs.
With a budget line item for RGGI proceeds and the final legal decision due from the Supreme Court soon, we must next pass legislation like the RGGI Investment Act, which would ensure these proceeds are spent equitably to combat environmental injustices, support workers through the transition to a clean energy economy, and lower families’ energy costs.
As the governor noted at the top of his budget address, the most important numbers in Harrisburg are 102, 26 and one. It takes 102 members of the state House, 26 in the state Senate and a governor to enact legislation. The governor’s budget proposal is just that – a proposal. It is the starting point for a process that will stretch over the next three-plus months, through legislative budget hearings and negotiations among legislators, the administration, and with input from the public and interest groups, like Conservation Voters of PA and our members. Throughout this process, our staff and members will continue to advocate with the Governor and legislature for the priorities we all share.
Given the process that kicked off on Tuesday and in light of the recent train derailment and release of toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio, just across the Pennsylvania border, we believe it is more important than ever that we ensure that emerging technologies, like hydrogen, are implemented in a way that prioritizes public safety and avoids the costly mistakes of the past. We must prioritize the needs of Pennsylvania families over the greed of large oil and gas companies that prioritize profits over safety as we work together to secure a prosperous clean energy future for our Commonwealth.
“Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come,” states the Declaration of Rights in Article 1 of our state constitution. Conservation Voters of PA is grateful for the leadership of Gov. Shapiro on these issues critical to the health and welfare of the citizens of our Commonwealth. We look forward to working with his administration and our legislative partners to advance these important initiatives and, as our constitution continues, fulfill our responsibility as “trustee of these resources” to “conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”