Budget Resolution Frees Up Funding for PSU’s Ag Extension

Observers are still tabulating the political fallout from Pennsylvania’s epic nine-month battle over the state budget. But last week, when Governor Tom Wolf announced he wouldn’t veto a Republican-backed spending package, Rick Roush was breathing a sigh of relief. Without the funding, his century-old agricultural extension program at Penn State University would be facing some tough times.

“We were very seriously facing having to send out layoff notices to at least 1,100 employees on the first of May,” Roush says.

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The program works with thousands of kids in 4-H and with Pennsylvania’s 33,000 farmers on everything from reducing chemical runoff into waterways, to identifying threats to the state’s $140-million fruit industry.

“Because we’re in every county, we have people on the ground spread out across the state,” Roush says. “And they’re often the first detectors of a new invasive pest species or a blight or anything like that.”

The budget resolution frees up the state’s $50-million annual investment in the extension program, which is also funded by money from counties and millions in federal grants.

“There would have been something like $80 million a year that’s federal tax money that wouldn’t have been coming back to Pennsylvania to address our problems.”

But the fight over the budget is far from over: Roush is still looking at Pennsylvania’s $2-billion budget deficit and worrying about long-term funding for his staff and programs.

Reporting by Julie Grant

 

Fight Over Gas Pipelines Sparks Civil Disobedience

All across Pennsylvania, energy companies are busy building new routes for oil and gas pipelines. But hundreds of landowners are fighting to keep these companies off their land. In some cases, families are even resorting to civil disobedience.

Elise Gerhart and her parents had tried for months to fight the pipeline destined for their land in Huntingdon County. But in January, a judge ruled that Sunoco Logistics could use eminent domain to build a pipeline through woods on their land. And this week, when a chainsaw crew arrived to clear a right-of-way, Gerhart climbed a tree on the property in protest.

“At every turn, the system has failed us,” she says. “They’ve left us no choice. No one’s coming to protect us.”

The Gerhart family is appealing the eminent domain decision. A company spokesman said the crews were there legally, trying to meet a March 31 deadline for tree cutting meant to protect migratory birds and an endangered species of bat.

Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline will transport propane, ethane and butane across Pennsylvania to an industrial complex in Philadelphia. The fuels can be used for heating or to manufacture plastics.

Elise’s mother, Ellen, said the family had signed an agreement with the state to keep the land forested. But that agreement couldn’t keep the chainsaw crews off the property.

“It’s our little part we thought we could do some good in by at least protecting three acres of Pennsylvania,” Ellen Gerhart said.

Reporting by Reid Frazier