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DRBC Faces Restored Pennsylvania Funding, More Cuts From New York

Pennsylvania is reportedly planning to resume paying its dues to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) for the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2012-2013, but New York wants to continue cutting its contribution to the watershed protection organization.

Kevin Sunday, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told NGI's Shale Daily that the Keystone State froze $400,000 in dues to the DRBC for FY2011-2012 at the request of Gov. Tom Corbett.

"The budget office looked at revenue collections for the first six months of our [current] fiscal year," Sunday said. "Our revenues were down, so the governor called for about $160 million in budget cuts for the present fiscal year, which worked out to about 3% for all agencies. The DEP shouldered that and we definitely heeded the call. We made cuts wherever we thought they could be absorbed.

"Since the DRBC has other funding partners, can charge fees for their withdrawal projects and can support themselves, we felt that was a place we could make a cut."

But Sunday said Corbett's proposed budget for FY2012-2013, which starts July 1, allocates $934,000 for the DRBC.

"That's above our signatory contribution of $893,000," Sunday said. "We make up almost 40% of the commission's budget. We have paid that for many years, except for when we got halfway through this fiscal year. Given our economic situation, we had to make these cuts." The extra $41,000 that Pennsylvania planned to give the DRBC would help cover the administrative costs for a groundwater protection program for municipalities in the southeastern part of the state, which is principally the Philadelphia metropolitan area, he noted.

Morris Peters, spokesman for New York State Division of the Budget, told NGI's Shale Daily that the Empire State plans to allocate $246,000 to the DRBC as part of its FY2012-2013 budget, which begins April 1. That represents a nearly 31% decline from the $355,000 New York gave the DRBC during FY2011-2012.

The DRBC is led by the governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. The commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic division is also a commission member. Its expense budget for the current fiscal year totals more than $5.66 million. According to the compact creating the DRBC, New Jersey and Pennsylvania each are to contribute 25% of the organization's budget, which comes out to $893,000 each. New York is to contribute 17.5% ($626,000), Delaware 12.5% ($447,000) and the federal government the remaining 20% ($715,000).

"It's definitely something that we're concerned about," DRBC spokeswoman Katherine O'Hara told NGI's Shale Daily. "We're working with our commissioners to have them understand our value to their states and why our budget is cost effective for them. Every dollar they put in, they get more in return. It's economically responsible for them to not only pay their fair share, but to also do it for the water resources of the basin."

O'Hara added that Delaware and New Jersey had both committed to paying their full share for the upcoming fiscal year.

Corbett criticized the DRBC for canceling its regularly scheduled meeting last November and postponing indefinitely a vote on revising water quality regulations that could open the basin to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling (see Shale Daily, Nov. 21, 2011). But contrary to other media reports, Sunday said the decision to withhold the $400,000 was not a retaliatory measure.

"This was budgetary decision," Sunday said. "It was a tough decision, but we had to make it."

The DRBC was to hold its next meeting at 10:45 a.m. EST Wednesday in West Trenton, NJ. O'Hara said natural gas issues were not on the agenda for the meeting and a decision had not been made about when to reschedule the meeting to discuss water quality regulations.

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