DEP Secretary’s Math Doesn’t Add Up

Member Group : Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania

First, a little background. In 2010, the EPA in Washington, DC imposed regulations governing nutrients that made their way into the Chesapeake Bay. The Susquehanna River is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed; giving the EPA authority over nearly half of Pennsylvania’s landmass due to the various tributaries feeding into the Susquehanna. The cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers to meet the EPA’s mandates will be nearly $5.6 billion over the next ten years under the current reduction system. Here is where the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), John Quigley comes into play.

Earlier in March, Quigley was questioned about the cost savings Pennsylvania taxpayers might enjoy if the nutrient reduction targets were achieved using competitive bidding via the private sector versus the current model that is driven by large-scale government infrastructure spending. A rebuttal from The Coalition for Affordable Bay Solutions (CABS) neatly summarized the duplicitousness of Quigley’s response:

"…[I]f $2 per lb. nitrogen reduction credits from riparian buffers are available to meet the Bay mandate…[then] the total cost to meet the 24 million lbs. of nitrogen mandates would be $48 million annually. Yet the Secretary continues to state that the most reliable estimate of the resources required to meet the mandate is $5.6 billion including operations and maintenance through 2025."

The numbers that Quigley uses to argue against competitive bidding total $480 million over ten years, but at the same time, he is stating that the DEP needs more money because the cost will be $5.6 billion in the same period. Both statements cannot be true.

In further researching the subject, we reviewed a 2013 report completed by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LCBF) that found using a competitive bid process would reduce the cost to taxpayers by 80-85 percent versus maintaining the status quo. It is no surprise that the competitive bidding option would save taxpayers money. However, it is unfortunate that the Secretary of the DEP would oppose a more cost effective method for complying with a federal mandate.

Unless the EPA reverses course on Chesapeake Bay Watershed requirements, Pennsylvania taxpayers will have to pay to comply. The question is how much money it will take to comply. To reduce costs, Pennsylvania must embrace a competitive bidding program. Currently, there is legislation in the Senate (SB 724) that would set up the necessary legal framework. We will monitor the legislation and keep you informed on its progress.