Furloughs of DEP Employees Imminent if Funding for HSCA Not Resolved, According to Testimony at House Republican Policy Committee Hearing
12/7/2007
The lack of state funding for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), including the potential furloughing of state employees and public safety, were the topics of today’s House Republican Policy Committee hearing.
 
The Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund was created in 1988 to investigate, assess and provide for the cleanup of sites that contain hazardous materials. The funding of HSCA became an important legislative proposal for House Republican’s during this summer’s budget negotiations when HSCA was left unfunded. The fund had enough money to last through December. 
 
Rep. Duane Milne (R-Chester), chair of today’s hearing, has introduced legislation, House Bill 2039, which would create a dedicated funding source for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund out of the General Budget.
 
“I am pleased with the input received from this hearing,” Milne said. “This legislation can finally provide a permanent solution for a very important program that can clean up these sites and once again make them productive. This creates jobs, adds to our economy and aids our environment at the same time. This is a win-win situation for everyone involved.”
 
Testifiers included representatives from environmental groups, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and East Whiteland Township.
 
Tom Fidler, deputy secretary for Waste, Air and Radiation Management under DEP, said that more than 600 sites have had removal action taken since 1988.
 
According to Fidler, HSCA is at a critical juncture. There is some HSCA funding left, but not enough to cover staff resources and project work. 
 
“It makes little sense to maintain staff if they are not working on projects,” Fidler said. “The department has made a decision and put a furlough plan in place. Staff will be notified next Friday, Dec. 14, that employees will be furloughed if there’s not an answer to the funding question by the end of this session. DEP has tried to button up project sites so that the public will be protected and the risk controlled if funding runs out.”
 
According to Fidler, 146 employees are in jeopardy of being furloughed.
 
“HSCA simply cannot operate without long-term funding. With layoff notices pending for many employees involved in this program, we must act now or risk seeing vital environmental cleanup efforts delayed or even derailed,” Harper said. “We need to assure the people of Pennsylvania that this fund will not die. In an industrial state like ours with so many hazardous sites to be cleaned up, we are always going to need HSCA to ensure a clean and safe environment.”
 
“We must find a dedicated funding source to pay for cleanup of hazardous sites before projects that are currently underway must stop due to a lack of money,” said Rep. Carole Rubley (R-Chester/Montgomery). 
 
In East Whiteland Township, where today’s hearing was held, there are five hazardous sites. At the Bishop Tube site there is water contaminated with trichloroethlene (TCE). According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, prolonged exposure to TCE can lead to an increased cancer risk. Breathing in TCE may cause headaches, lung irritation, dizziness, poor coordination and difficulty breathing. 
 
“HSCA is an important public safety program, it protects you, me, our children and grandchildren, from exposure to toxic chemicals and the responsibility to clean up hazards to public health,” said Sandy Moser, president of Republicans for Environmental Protection. “And, most importantly, it protects our water supplies. HSCA provides essential services that are necessary for protecting public families, supporting local economies and helping maintain property values.”
 
Reps. Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), Brian Ellis (R-Butler), Scott Hutchinson (R-Butler/Venango), Tim Hennessey (R-Chester), Chris Ross (R-Chester), Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) were also in attendance.
 
“The testimony given today has strongly reinforced my conviction that we should promptly adopt legislation to provide a reliable and permanent funding source for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, and we should meet this goal without reducing funding for other important environmental funds,” said Ross.
 
“I applaud Rep. Milne for taking a leadership role and finding permanent funding for HSCA. He and the other representatives who attended today’s hearing have led the charge on the many environmental issues facing the Commonwealth,” said Turzai, chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee. “Their leadership on this issue has been invaluable to both myself and my colleagues.”
 
Milne’s legislation has been introduced and is currently in the House Environmental Resources Committee.
 
Rep. Duane Milne
167th District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
(610) 251-1070
(717) 787-8579
Contact: Raymond Smith
rsmith@pahousegop.com
(717) 705-1834
Member Site: DuaneMilne.com
Caucus Site: PAHouseGOP.com