Corbett's proposed DRBC budget cut sparks debate health,phila,region

Posted: February 08, 2014

Gov. Corbett's proposed budget for 2014-15 would drastically cut funding for the Delaware River Basin Commission, which, despite his urging, has kept in place a moratorium on natural-gas drilling in the basin.

Democratic gubernatorial contender John Hanger, a former environmental protection secretary, called the cut "naked retaliation for the DRBC's continuing moratorium on gas drilling in the Delaware watershed." He urged the Assembly to not cut the funding.

The governor's energy executive, Patrick Henderson, disagreed, saying it was because other DRBC members have not been paying their share.

"The governor does not engage in retaliation," he said. "The governor believes the taxpayers of Pennsylvania should not bear a disproportionate share of the funding for this important commission."

A reduction of that magnitude - about 20 percent of the DRBC's state and federal income - would hamper the commission's ability to do its job, said Robert Tudor, deputy executive director.

"We are probably in a position with having to do less with less," he said. "We're disappointed, to say the least."

The commissioners, who oversee water issues, are the governors of the four states with land in the basin - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware - plus a federal representative.

Funding was apportioned based on each state's population and area in the basin. New York has not paid its full 17.5 percent share for several years, and last year New Jersey reduced its 25 percent share, citing fiscal constraints. With the exception of two years, the federal government has not paid since 1988.

While Pennsylvania is to pay 25 percent of the DRBC's budget, its share is in effect larger due to the other shortfalls.

In Corbett's proposed budget, Pennsylvania's funding would drop by 53.5 percent, from $934,000 to $434,000. Funding for the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and similar agencies would not be cut.

In 2010, the commission instituted a drilling moratorium until regulations were in place. The regulations were proposed but never adopted. So, several northeastern counties underlain by Marcellus Shale have remained off-limits.

Corbett has pushed to end the moratorium. In June, he wrote to his fellow commissioners conveying "a profound sense of frustration and disappointment on behalf of my constituents."

Jeffrey Featherstone, a Temple University professor and former deputy executive director of the commission, said the budget cut "may be counterproductive, as it's the five commission members who created the impasse, not the staff."

"Slashing the staff budget will not change the positions of the five members," he said. "Instead, it will seriously limit the agency's ability to do its work."

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware riverkeeper, called Corbett's proposal "irresponsible" and said his reasoning was "not a legitimate excuse."

But Mike Uretsky, member of the steering committee of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Association, which has pushed for drilling, said he supported the governor's cut.

By not adopting drilling regulations, the commission "simply hasn't performed, and performed efficiently," he said. Pennsylvania "is paying more than its fair share for this kind of inefficiency."

215-854-5147 @sbauers

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