Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Former DEP Secretary Urges Senators To Oppose Anti-Stream Buffer Bill

David E. Hess, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary under Governors Ridge and Schweiker, wrote to all members of the Senate Tuesday urging them to oppose House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) eliminating the nearly 4 year old requirement for stream buffers in High Quality and Exceptional Value streams if it comes up for a vote in the five remaining days of legislative session.
The text of the letter follows--
The science is clear and the economics are indisputable, forested stream buffers are the most effective and least-costly best management practice you can install to help prevent pollution of our streams and rivers, stabilize stream banks and improve habitat for fish and other aquatic life.
But don’t believe me, research by Pennsylvania’s own Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, world-recognized experts on stream buffers and watershed ecology, and decades of experience on the ground have proven it.  A large and growing body of scientific evidence clearly indicates there is no practice more effective or less costly.
Nearly four years ago the Department of Environmental Protection adopted a rule requiring stream buffers, not along all streams, but only in High Quality (HQ) and Exceptional Value (EV) Watersheds, 4 percent of the watersheds in Pennsylvania.
To provide flexibility, the rule provided nine different exemptions and six different waivers from the requirement, including for single family homes not part of a development, maintenance of pipelines, and for oil, gas, timber and mining operations.  In January DEP told the House they did not recall a single instance when a waiver was not granted.  
The House also heard overwhelming opposition to House Bill 1565 from environmental, conservation, sportsmen’s groups and from the Monroe County Conservation District which has decades of real-world experience with development where nearly all the county’s streams are HQ or EV.  I would note Monroe County is the second fastest growing county in Pennsylvania.  Its population increased more than 70 percent since 1990.
House Bill 1565 would take away the stream buffer requirement without any scientific or independently verified evidence of any problems it is creating.  I know, because I met with the Builders Association.
When I was Secretary of DEP under Governors Ridge and Schweiker, I visited every one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties at least twice and saw first-hand how simple tools like stream buffers, many times installed by volunteers and funded by the Growing Greener Program matched by local support, improved water quality.
That improved water quality made it easier to use streams and rivers as sources of drinking water, meet water quality standards and helped restore fishing on streams that hadn’t seen a fish in decades.  More than one grandparent came up to me and said how happy it made them to be able to take their grandkids to a local stream to fish.  As a grandparent now myself, I’ve come to appreciate these comments even more.
In the five voting days remaining, you may be asked to vote on House Bill 1565.  As you make your decision, I would encourage you to look at the clear scientific evidence and decades of on-the-ground experience supporting the effectiveness and economics of stream buffers versus the lack of any documented problem with the requirement from the other side.
If there are problems with the way the rule is administered, let’s tackle those issues, not throw out one of the most effective tools we have to improve water quality.
Pennsylvania is facing significant mandates to meet water quality standards under the federal Clean Water Act in every watershed in the Commonwealth, as well as in special areas like the Chesapeake Bay, Lake Erie and Ohio River Watersheds.  
To deny us the use of tools like stream buffers in our best watersheds will impose additional costs on taxpayers they can ill afford in today’s economy.
I encourage you to vote against House Bill 1565.
I would be happy to answer any questions you may have about this issue and my experience with stream buffers.  Call me at 717-576-0420 or send email to: DHess@CrisciAssociates.com.
The bill is also opposed by PA Environmental Council, Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the PA Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, the Fish and Boat Commission, PA Council of Trout Unlimited and PA League of Women Voters.

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