An environmental crisis has been averted in Pennsylvania, as the House this afternoon approved - unanimously and with stunning speed - a three-year funding plan for the state's hazardous-sites cleanup program.
The passage of the measure, already approved by the Senate in October, comes just 19 days before the fund that supports remediation and monitoring of contaminated properties was to run out of money. As many as 130 employees of the Department of Environmental Protection were to be laid off.
It now needs Gov. Rendell's approval, something he has promised to deliver - however reluctantly.
Along with environmental advocates and, indeed, lawmakers themselves, Rendell said today he is disappointed that the Hazardous Site Cleanup Fund (known as HSCA) still has no dedicated funding source, despite bipartisan consensus that one is needed.
"I will sign the bill, but it is a bad way of doing business," Rendell said after presiding at the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree. "If we open the floodgates and allow people to spend money in the middle of the year without a revenue source, it would be a terrible precedent and it would wreck the fiscal stability that has been such a hallmark of the progress we've made in the last five years."
Under the new funding plan, HSCA would receive $17.2 million from existing legislative accounts through June 30. For most of the next three fiscal years, it would provide $40 million from a levy on businesses called the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax - the funding source since the program started in 1988.