Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Op-Ed: Budget Debate: Accelerate, Don’t Negotiate PA’s Clean Water Commitment

By Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania Office Director

Amid budget discussions about a natural gas severance tax, increasing personal income and sales taxes, escalating education spending, and infusing distressed pensions, Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) wanted to know how the new Wolf Administration plans to meet Pennsylvania’s obligation for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay.
At the House Appropriations Committee later last month, Acting Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley agreed that the Commonwealth is off-target for achieving its cleanup milestones and acknowledged the need to “reboot” efforts on behalf of the Bay.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed budget includes funding increases for the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, and Agriculture. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is anxious to learn how those investments will be prioritized and progress accelerated toward meeting the Commonwealth’s water quality commitments.
Now part of the appropriations dialog, the critical nature of meeting milestones set forth in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint must be more than an afterthought. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation urges the Governor and legislators to honor the Commonwealth’s commitment when imminent, tough decisions are to be made.
The Clean Water Blueprint for roughly half of the rivers and streams in Pennsylvania that make up the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is a combination of science-based pollution limits for waterways and state-devised cleanup plans, and two-year milestones.
By the end of 2017, the Commonwealth must have 60 percent of the pollution practices outlined in the Blueprint in place. Unfortunately, a number of recent assessments by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), CBF, and the Choose Clean Water Coalition have all concluded that Pennsylvania’s efforts to meet commitments are falling short in key areas — agricultural and urban/suburban polluted runoff.
But Pennsylvania’s deficiencies on reducing pollution from agriculture are particularly worrisome.
Let’s be clear: Pennsylvania’s farmers have made substantial progress in reducing pollution in the last 30 years. We commend them for that.  But the science indicates that more needs to be done to clean up our rivers and streams.  
In fact, agricultural activities are the largest source of pollution to the Commonwealth’s rivers, streams, and the Bay.  But on average, it’s also the least expensive source of pollution to reduce.
Still, there are estimates that no more than 30 percent of farmers are currently meeting Pennsylvania’s existing clean water laws. Some of these rules have been in place for 20 or more years.
A recent EPA report concluded that ensuring farms are meeting existing clean water laws would substantially increase pollution reduction. But the agency also found that Pennsylvania does not have a consistent approach, a comprehensive strategy, or sufficient resources to ensure farms are meeting existing requirements.
Ensuring farms meet or exceed Pennsylvania’s clean water laws requires more than just resources for inspectors, however.  It requires investing resources in outreach and education to farmers about their obligations and, critically, the technical assistance to design and implement pollution reducing practices like streamside forest buffers or barnyard runoff controls.
In his inquiry, Rep. Everett asked why Gov. Wolf’s proposed $675 million bond issue was not dedicated to water quality cleanup, instead of for alternative energy and other uses. At a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), asked the same question.
While Pennsylvania’s leaders conduct budget negotiations, it is distressing that elected officials in Congress are proposing deep cuts to the very investments the Commonwealth and our farmers are counting on.  This is simply unacceptable.  
We call on the Governor, legislature, and Pennsylvania’s farmers and conservation community to urge our representatives in Washington not to go down that path.   
Saving the Bay and restoring local water quality will not just benefit us; clean water means a healthier Susquehanna, less flooding, purer drinking water, better health for us and our children, and a legacy for future generations.
Economically, a peer-reviewed report produced for CBF documents a $6.2 billion return on investment if the Commonwealth achieves the Blueprint.
Pennsylvania cannot afford to backtrack on the right of its people to have clean water. Clean water counts. There are ramifications should the federal government decide to intervene in order to achieve the cleanup goals.
Ratepayers and taxpayers could bear the consequences.
CBF urges our leaders to provide the resources and the will to meet Pennsylvania’s commitment to clean water.
For more information, visit Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.

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