Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Hearing: More Resources Needed To Meet Water Pollution Cleanup Obligations, No Magic Bullets

There was unanimous agreement Tuesday at a joint hearing by the Senate Environmental and Agriculture Committees that more resources are needed to meet Pennsylvania’s water pollution cleanup commitment to the Chesapeake Bay and throughout the state and that there are no magic bullets to meet those obligations.
Click Here for to watch or listen to the hearing.
Since the 1980s, Pennsylvania has made significant progress in meeting Chesapeake Bay pollution reduction goals-- reducing nitrogen by 11.3 million pounds, phosphorus 1.7 million and eliminating 540 million tons of sediment.
But Pennsylvania must achieve a 34 million pound reduction in nitrogen alone in the next 10 years, noted Ann Swanson, Executive Director of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission.
Several witness pointed to a 2013 assessment conducted by Penn State University’s Environmental and Natural Resources Institute that estimates to fully comply with EPA’s pollution reduction mandates on farmers to meet the 2025 Bay deadline, Pennsylvania will need to incur $3.6 billion in total costs.
In order to both implement and maintain such practices and infrastructure, PSU- ENRI estimates Pennsylvania would need to invest $378.3 million each year through 2025 from all funding sources -- public and private.
In fiscal year 2014, total state and federal funding available to Pennsylvania for nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment pollution reduction programs statewide, not just the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, amounted to just $146.6 million and $180 million in 2015-16, according to the Chesapeake Bay Commission and Joel Rotz from the PA Farm Bureau.
In addition, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA said it has brought funding for farm conservation efforts into Pennsylvania through grants and the federal Farm Bill.  Over the last 19 years, CBF has directly invested more than $25 million in helping over 5,000 Pennsylvania landowners, primarily farmers, to implement cost-effective conservation measures, most importantly streamside forested buffers.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee (photo), said in addition to concerns focused on farm runoff, the Conowingo Dam and other dams on the Susquehanna River that used to trap large amounts of sediments are now full and will not be as effective in the future.
John Brosious from the PA Municipal Authorities Association said wastewater treatment plants were the only sector in Pennsylvania to actually meet their Chesapeake Bay 2017 midpoint goals, three years ahead of schedule. As a sector, the wastewater plants met their phosphorus reduction goal in the fall of 2013, and their nitrogen reduction goal in the spring of 2014.
The cost of these upgrades, from a 2008 Metcalf and Eddy report sanctioned by the Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee, was $1.4 billion.
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding and Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell noted federal agencies and the state recently committed $28 million in additional funding, nearly $12 million from the state, for farm conservation efforts in the Pennsylvania portion of the Bay watershed.  [Click Here for a summary of how the additional funding will be allocated.]
Acting Secretary McDonnell noted since he became Acting Secretary 4 months ago, he’s spent more time on Chesapeake Bay issues than any other issue.  He also acknowledged the obvious, Pennsylvania is not going to meet its 2017 pollution reduction.
Acting Secretary McDonnell said Pennsylvania must be focused on nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment removal in the most effective and efficient ways possible.  He also noted Pennsylvania needs to count farm conservation practices now on the ground, but said those measures aren’t going to remove the additional pollutants we need to remove to meet our goal.
Sen. Yaw pointed out Pennsylvania is responsible for 69 percent of the nitrogen reductions needed in the Bay Watershed  Secretary Redding added agriculture is likely to be responsible for 80 percent of that reduction.
Secretary Redding said the rebooted Chesapeake Bay Strategy is focused on improving local water quality and that directly translates into helping the Bay.  He said Pennsylvania has an obligation in law to address water quality issues, but we also have a responsibility to ensure viable farming operations.
Funding Recommendations
Among the recommendations related to funding and possible funding sources for making water quality improvements discussed at the hearing were-
-- Water Use Fee: Some Chesapeake Bay Commission members in Pennsylvania are looking at a water use fee in House Bill 2114 (Sturla-R-Lancaster) and House Resolution 908 (Everett-R-Lycoming);  
-- Growing Greener III: A new Growing Greener III initiative was introduced as Senate Bill 1374 (Killion-R-Delaware) to fund watershed cleanup and 26 other environmental, recreation and land stewardship programs (although it does need a source of funding);
-- Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund: Establish a Pennsylvania Chesapeake Bay Trust Fund, available to all impacted sectors, a “Pennvest for the Bay,” might be a good place to start. Pennsylvania delegates to the Chesapeake Bay Commission could convene a legislative task force to develop potential funding sources, as well as the grant/loan parameters for such a funding program.
-- Other Ideas: An income tax check off and a special vehicle license that may not be large sources of funding, but helpful to creating awareness of water quality improvements needed across the state.
Other Recommendations
Other program and education recommendations made by witnesses included--
-- Precision-Based BMP Investments: Use newly available high-resolution Geographic Information System datasets and tools to pilot an innovative approach to conservation, conduct precision conservation, and better focus restoration efforts and best management practice implementation on the ground.
-- Target 5 Counties: Pennsylvania and the U.S. Department of Agriculture should focus additional investments in five Southcentral PA counties to accelerate pollution reductions from agriculture-- Lancaster, York, Franklin, Cumberland and Adams, in that order.
-- Expand Nutrient Credit Trading Program: Expand the existing Nutrient Credit Trading Program to consider: participation, success, cost, viability, reliability and sustainability. It should include stormwater reductions, multi-state trading, innovative credit generation, and the ability of a credit to potentially have a multi-year application.
-- Develop A Stronger Culture Of Land Stewardship: There can be substantial cost savings in building a stronger culture of voluntary action through farmer mentoring programs, peer pressure and cooperative engagement of non-governmental organizations.
-- PA Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Committee: Create a decision-making PA Chesapeake Bay Agriculture Committee from various agricultural sectors, conservation districts, soil scientists, and other professionals. Their main purpose would be to develop a credible plan to meet Bay goals, with dates for compliance, and consequences for non-compliance.
-- Adopt 4 Principles To Guide Bay Efforts: 1) Test Results are better than model projections; 2) Everyone – Everywhere need to implement conservation practices; 3) Innovative Financing – New way of thinking – return on investment is the key and 4) Define farm compliance for the Commonwealth.
-- Funding County Technical Assistance To Farmers: Funding technical assistance efforts in county conservation districts not involved in farm inspections.
-- Agricultural Certainty Program: Create an incentive program for farmers for meeting minimum conservation requirements that provide them with safe-harbors from new regulations if they meet those standards;
-- Require Farm Compliance: Amend the state Clean and Green Program to require compliance with manure management, nutrient management plan and erosion and sedimentation requirements-- House Bill 1447 (Sturla-D-Lancaster);;
-- Regulate Fertilizer: Create a certification program for commercial fertilizer applicators and limit nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizer applied to turf-- Senate Bill 563 (Alloway-R- Franklin);
-- Stream Fencing: Repeal the state Clean Streams Law prohibition to requiring stream fencing on farms.
-- Public Information: Fund a strong public relations effort in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed spearheaded by DEP and the Department of Agriculture focused on community participation, not just agricultural producers.
Key Takeaways
There are some key takeaway quotes from several witnesses at the hearing--
-- No Magic Bullet: “There is no magic bullet, no simple solution. We must avoid the temptation to believe that a single technology, practice, or approach will solve the diverse challenge of achieving Pennsylvania’s Blueprint and restoring the 19,000 miles of impaired rivers and streams in the Commonwealth. We must focus on the practices demonstrated by scientists, policy makers, and practitioners to not only work, but to have the most benefits as the least-cost.” Harry Campbell, PA Office Director Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
-- Hard Decisions: “As you know, the issue of remediation of the Chesapeake Bay is a vast and complex issue and it will take innovative ideas and perhaps some very hard decisions and actions. At the end of the day, this responsibility has been assigned to Pennsylvania and if Pennsylvania wants to succeed, then someone needs to take ownership of this responsibility and provide the leadership so desperately lacking today to ensure a brighter future for Pennsylvania.” Christian Herr, Executive Vice President of Penn Ag Industries.
-- The Farmer’s Conundrum: “We would also note that at public presentations offered before the agricultural community, EPA has acknowledged that even if Pennsylvania’s agricultural sector would fully attain the standards for legal compliance in production practices, the resulting reduction in nutrient and sediment pollution would not reach the pollution reduction goals that the Bay TMDL requires the agricultural sector to reach by 2025, according to EPA’s own estimates and analysis.
“This is a disturbing conundrum for those 33,600 Pennsylvania farmers in the Bay Watershed who are struggling to determine a course of action that will provide them some reasonable confidence that the future function and existence of their farms will not become extinguished by future “changes” to federal or state regulatory standards or administrative strategies that will apply to the Bay Watershed.”  Joel Rotz, PA Farm Bureau.
-- Funding Is The Key To Success: “Funding is the key to success for Best Management Practice (or BMP) installation. Without adequate state and federal funding, farmers cannot afford to install the BMPs necessary to significantly reduce nutrients getting into our local waterways, and ultimately the Bay.”  Brenda Shambaugh, Executive Director, PA Association of Conservation Districts.
-- Research Can Reduce Costs Of Compliance: “Our faculty’s research indicates significant cost-savings could be achieved by prioritizing BMP implementation to watersheds, and locations within watersheds and prioritizing practices according to cost-effectiveness.   
Table 3 in the attached Kaufman article estimates a potential cost saving of 73% compared to the Phase 1 WIP. Dr. James Shortle - Distinguished Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Economics and Director of our college’s Environment and Natural Resources Institute - believes that may actually underestimate the potential cost savings because the results were developed using the spatially coarse Chesapeake Bay model and that finer scale models could do better.”  Richard Roush, Dean, Penn State College Of Agricultural Sciences.
Copies of written testimony are available online:
-- Russell Redding, Secretary of Agriculture
-- Patrick McDonnell, Acting DEP Secretary
-- Harry Campbell, Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA;
-- Christian Herr, PennAg Industries;
-- Joel Rotz, PA Farm Bureau;
-- Brenda Shambaugh, PA Association of Conservation Districts;
-- Richard Roush, Dean, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Agricultural Costs Of The Chesapeake Bay TMDL;
-- John Brosious, PA Municipal Authorities Association; and
-- Michael McCloskey, Select Milk, New Mexico, National Milk Producers Federation.
Click Here for to watch or listen to the hearing.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by sending email to: gyaw@pasen.gov.   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: yudichak@pasenate.com.
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and can be contacted by sending email to: evogel@pasen.gov.  Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by sending email to: SenatorSchwank@pasenate.com.
Related Story:
CBF-PA Says Implementation Is Key To Success Of PA’s Clean Water Efforts

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