The General Assembly is wrapping up the state budget today and the Governor expects to sign it before the close of the fiscal year tonight. As many of you will recall, last year PADEP took an enormous hit in the budget that resulted in over 300 employees being furloughed. Whether there will be any furloughs this year is unknown. The budget numbers released for PADEP show reductions across the board. I pulled the chart off of Dave Hess' blog, which continues to be the best source for environmental information in the Commonwealth. The one number in the chart that is stunning is the amount of funding that has been lost over the last 8 years at PADEP. It's staggering. What's not shown on the chart is the brain drain that has occurred over those 8 years, which has accelerated over the last two. Respected senior staff has been retiring in steady and increasing numbers. Those taking their places oftentimes don't have the same willingness to use the Department's discretion and the flexibility provided by the regulations and guidance. That's frustrating to those of us on the outside trying to work with clients on projects to create jobs and economic opportunities. At the same time that senior staff are departing, training budgets are frozen or cut, and that just makes it harder for those climbing the ranks to be as proficient as their predecessors in regulatory areas that are complex and ever-changing. Many of us on the outside understand the critical dual role that the Department plays in protecting our environment and helping to drive the economic engine of the Commonwealth by making timely permitting decisions and providing advice and guidance to businesses looking to locate or expand in Pennsylvania. As the state comes to depend on Marcellus Shale exploration and development for jobs and revenue, the Department's role will become even more critical and highly visible. In all likelihood, the next Governor is also going to have difficult budget decisions to make. In order for PADEP to implement its mission and to serve its many customers and be an effective partner in restoring economic prosperity in the Commonwealth, the bleeding needs to stop.
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