Thursday, July 6, 2017

Enviro attorney seeks Pa. budget declared unconstitutional

Pennsylvania Capitol - StateImpact photo

Susan Phillips  reports for StateImpact:

Responding to the Supreme Court’s recent decision bolstering the state’s Environmental Rights Amendment, the environmental lawyer who successfully argued the original case challenging the use of revenue from oil and gas operations on state land for non-conservation activities has asked the Commonwealth Court to declare the current state budget unconstitutional.

John Childe, with the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation, argues using proceeds from the state’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to pay general operating expenses at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources runs afoul of the Supreme Court’s decision, which ruled article 1, section 27, or what is also known as the Environmental Rights Amendment, requires all three branches of government to hold the state’s natural resources in public trust, incorporating all the fiduciary responsibilities associated with the state’s private trust laws.
“If that’s a constitutional use of our natural resources then we don’t have control over those funds,” said Childe. “They can’t commingle that money with commonwealth money.”
Childe says DCNR’s general operating budget for fiscal year 2017-2018 relies in part on funds from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund, which is comprised of royalty money, as well as bonus payments to the state from oil and gas companies that operate on public land.
The fund is expected to generate $80 million in royalty revenue this year, up about $8 million over last year. Gov. Wolf imposed a moratorium on new drilling leases when he took office in 2015, so no new bonus payments will be paid.
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