Thursday, January 25, 2018

Joint House-Senate Conservation Committee Celebrates 50th Anniversary

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Joint Legislative Conservation Committee, an important milestone in our history.
Although one of the smallest legislative service agencies, the Committee serves an important role for General Assembly, providing bipartisan information on the environment, energy and conservation.
Its work is often removed from political headlines, but past and present members understand the significant contributions such a unique, nonpartisan committee brings to the legislative process.
The Committee was established in the late-1960s, a time when the public sought basic protections for the Commonwealth’s diverse natural resources.
Act 448 of 1967, signed by Gov. Raymond P. Shafer, created a new agency to provide legislative oversight for a conservation bond referendum known as Project 500. The Committee was also tasked with studying pollution across the Commonwealth and recommending laws to the General Assembly.
This spring, the Committee will publish a retrospective of the last 50 years. It will highlight the origins of the Committee, its activities over the decades and the legislators and staff who have been integral to its success. I hope that you will take some time to read about the Committee’s influence on Pennsylvania’s conservation legacy.
In its early history, the Committee’s role was pivotal in enacting many of the state’s first environmental laws, perhaps most famously the Environmental Rights Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.
Written by Committee member Rep. Franklin Kurry, voters approved the ballot measure by a four-to-one margin in May of 1971. Since then, the Committee has diligently worked to navigate the complex relationship between our society and the environment.
Over the years, the Committee has had a significant influence on the development of environmental legislation and policy in Pennsylvania.
For example, Committee public forums, roundtables, investigative hearings, reports and studies have assisted in the development of the following laws: the “Pennsylvania Infrastructure and Investment Authority Act”, the “Municipal Waste Planning Recycling and Waste Reduction Act, the “Small Water Systems Assistance Act”, the “Oil and Gas Act”, the “Keystone Recreation, Park, and Conservation Fund Act”, the “Waste Tire Recycling Act” and the “Covered Device Recycling Act.”
Not to mention the iconic Pennsylvania Wild Resource Conservation Fund specialty license plates.  In 1990, the Committee conducted a comprehensive review of the issues confronting how the WRCF financed its vibrant and sought-after grant program which supports research and conservation of Pennsylvania’s non-game wildlife.
At that time, the WRCF relied on a state income tax checkoff for its funding. The Committee determined that a special revenue-generating license plate program would be a better solution, performing  the double duty of helping to fund the program bringing awareness to a popular cause.
The WRCF plate, introduced in November 1993, was the first specialty plate issued by Pennsylvania. Now they are found on the back of cars and trucks throughout the Commonwealth.
The Prescribed Burning Practices Act, a byproduct of the Committee’s legislative forestry task force, is integral to the stewardship of our forest resources and the communities they support. The prescribed fires law was a collaboration between academics, state conservation officials and the forest products industry.
Without giving away too much of the upcoming retrospective, I thought I would share a few interesting facts about the Committee’s membership and activities over the years:
-- The Committee is one of the oldest state legislative agencies of its kind in the U.S.
-- Almost every county in the Commonwealth, or parts of it, has been represented by a legislative member serving on the Committee.
-- From 1968-2018, there have been 119 legislative members that have served on the Committee. In addition, there have been seven different Committee chairmen and nine executive directors.
-- Beginning in 2000, the Committee has held 83 Environmental Issues Forums that were attended by over 1,600 individuals including legislators, state agency representatives, stakeholders and others.
-- The longest serving member is Rep. Camille “Bud” George, a Democrat from Clearfield County, who sadly passed away in September. Bud was an active member of the Committee for nearly 30 years (1983-2012).
The Committee’s staff often refers to the “environmental umbrella” which covers nearly all sectors of our society and economy.
Since becoming Chairman in 2001, I’ve been amazed at the sheer scope of issues and programs we have examined.
I’ve found myself in the Pennsylvania Wilds learning about forest management, on a mountain in Berks County observing migratory raptors and in Columbia County surrounded by over 6 million tires in Pennsylvania’s largest waste tire pile.
There are still many topics left for the Committee to explore.
As the Committee reflects on 50 years of service, it is natural to consider what is next for the agency. How will its work continue to evolve to meet the needs of the Pennsylvania General Assembly?
What legislation and policies will help shape the next 50 years? The answer to those questions is history in the making.
Thank you to all of our supporters, past, present and future!
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) serves as Chair of the Joint Conservation Committee.
For more information, visit the Joint Conservation Committee website, Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Committee.
(Reprinted from the January Environmental Synopsis newsletter from the Joint Conservation Committee.)

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