Fact Check: DEP Funding

A Capitolwire article (subscription) on DEP funding highlights an argument between a former and current Department of Environmental Protection secretaries. Former DEP Secretary David Hess says the Department is cut to the bone, while current Secretary John Hanger says it’s doing the job well:

But former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David Hess … said the department is operating with funding near 1994 levels, and it’s disingenuous to claim the department will be able maintain the same level of protection. …

During the last two state budgets, legislators have cut out $72 million in state funding for the DEP, reducing its funding by one-third, from $217 million to $145 million.

These numbers are only the General Fund portion of DEP funding — but over 80% of DEP funding comes from other funds, e.g., environmental stewardship, user fees, and federal funds. The total budget (All Funds) for DEP was $897 million last year, and an estimated $889 million this year.

This compares with a $379 million budget for DEP (actually, the DEP share of the Department of Environmental Resources since DEP didn’t exist until 1995) in FY 1993-94. Thus, DEP’s funding has increased 134% since 1994. This is just another example of how the state hides spending outside of “The Budget” and then whines about cuts.

Indeed, a separate Capitolwire piece highlights how DEP is getting much more revenue from higher fees:

The increase was the first in 25 years, and resulted in what was a $100 flat fee becoming a variable amount that generally ranges between $5,000 and $10,000, DEP spokesman Tom Rathbun said.

The revenue from these fees resulted in the DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management being its only division to grow in the last year, Rathbun said.

The bureau has also hired 100 new employees and opened two new offices in Williamsport and Scranton, Rathbun said.

The new drilling permit fee system is expected to bring in about $12 million this year, compared to about $900,000 in annual revenues under the old fee system, according to the Environmental Quality Board. By 2013, collected fees are expected to exceed $18 million annually.

The DEP saw its revenue receipts rise by about 33 percent between the 2008-2009 fiscal year and the 2009-2010 fiscal year, from about $120 million to $160 million, said Rathbun.

It raises the question — shouldn’t a fee (and fine) approach be the proper way to fund environmental costs of drilling, not a severance tax?