The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued the following statement from Pennsylvania Executive Director Shannon Gority, applauding the state Supreme Court’s ruling this week that it is unconstitutional for the Commonwealth to transfer monies from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Oil and Gas Fund to the General Fund in order to fill budget gaps.
The court first ruled in 2017 that transferring royalties from gas leases on state forest land for purposes other than conservation was unconstitutional. That decision stemmed from the Commonwealth shuffling over $380 million in oil and gas monies to the General Fund in 2009 and 2010. The Commonwealth Court ruled otherwise last year, and the state Supreme Court’s ruling again this week overturns that decision.
The Court’s decision upholds the trust citizens have that government should protect our land, air, and water. While the latest ruling does not mean the $380 million must be repaid, future revenues must be distributed to where they are intended.
The Commonwealth’s elected leaders have a history of targeting some of the 13 dedicated environmental and conservation funds in order to fill budget gaps. Legislators made no secret early in the latest budget process that they would consider the Environmental Stewardship Fund.
Ms. Gority said:
“It is clear by this ruling, that legislators and the Governor need to do better at protecting the Constitutional right that Pennsylvanians have to clean water. With roughly 25,800 miles of our rivers and streams harmed by pollution, it is past time for our elected officials to invest in clean water.
“The Commonwealth has a legacy of inadequate financial and technical investments in our environment and the General Fund budget for 2021-22 is yet another missed opportunity. Available federal American Rescue Plan money could have been used to restore and protect Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams, improve the productivity of farms, and reduce nuisance flooding in our communities.
“All of this while it still isn’t clear how the state will close the more than $320 million annual shortfall needed to achieve its Clean Water Blueprint by 2025. Our General Assembly has a duty to act this Fall to fix that problem.
“We applaud the message sent by the state Supreme Court that, when considering filling budget gaps, elected leaders should keep their hands off of conservation funding.
“We also suggest a more hands-on approach by the Commonwealth in living up to its commitment to clean water that is critical to the health, wellbeing, and quality of life of all Pennsylvanians.”