Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Senate Passes Bill To Finance More Initiatives Out Of The Growing Greener Fund Without Adding Any New Money

The Senate Tuesday amended and Wednesday passed Senate Bill 799 to use the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund to finance programs previously funded through the General Fund or other agencies, plus added several new initiatives without providing any more money.
This means the already scarce resources devoted to the Growing Greener Program would be stretched even more thinly and lose their effectiveness at restoring and protecting Pennsylvania’s environment if no significant sources of new funding are found.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee said in a Tweet, "The bill promotes innovative technology and creates a framework to build upon successful environmental programs.. We will continue to work towards dedicated funding of these programs to help PA meet our Chesapeake Bay mandates."
The need for new funding to make this initiative work was also mentioned in remarks on the Senate Floor by Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
“The Growing Greener framework, included in Senate Bill 799, represents our commitment to stakeholders throughout PA, including the groups like the Growing Greener Coalition, that the legislature will continue the fight for the necessary funding to continue the tremendous legacy of the Growing Greener Program,” said Sen. Yudichak.
The programs previously funded through the General Fund or other sources including--
-- Funding the $10 million Resource Enhancement and Recovery (REAP) Farm Conservation Tax Credit from Agriculture’s share;
-- Funding Department of Community and Economic development local land use planning, Elm Street and Main Street redevelopment programs, now part of the Keystone Communities Program which was appropriated just over $13 million this year;
-- Grants to counties to preserve farmland through the Department of Agriculture, not just the Department;
-- Funding low-interest loans to farmers on preserved farms to keep them viable through the Department of Agriculture.
-- Fish and Boat Commission dam rehabilitation and maintenance and upgrades to fish hatcheries;
-- Game Commission dam and water structure improvements;
-- PA Historical and Museum Commission for historic preservation grants;
-- Funding for the PA Energy Harvest Program for solar, wind and methane digester projects on farms through DEP; and
-- Funding to characterize, remediate or eliminate environmental hazards on brownfield properties to return them to productive use through DEP.
The allocation of funds to each participating agency were changed to add the new programs now proposed to be funded by the Environmental Stewardship Fund--
-- Department of Conservation & Natural Resources: 28.9 Percent [Old Percentage 24.1] of which: 50 percent for county, municipal, authorized organizations; 10 percent for land trust projects; 4.5 percent for Heritage Areas; 30 percent for projects in the Susquehanna River Watershed;
-- Department of Environmental Protection: 38.2 Percent [Old Percentage 37.4 Percent] of which 40 percent for projects in the Susquehanna River Watershed;
-- Department of Agriculture: 19.7 Percent [Old Percentage 14.8] of which 12 percent for farmland preservation; 40 percent for projects within the Susquehanna River Watershed, and paying for the Resource Enhancement and Protection Farm Conservation (REAP) Tax Credit;
-- PA Infrastructure Investment Authority: 4.6 Percent [Old Percentage 23.7] of which 40 percent for projects in the Susquehanna River Watershed;
-- Department of Community and Economic Development: 3.6 Percent [Not included before];
-- Fish and Boat Commission: 2.6 Percent [Not included before];
-- Game Commission: 1.3 Percent [Not included before]; and
-- PA Historical and Museum Commission: 1.1 Percent [Not included before].
The bill also creates a new, significantly changed Clean Water Procurement Program aimed only at nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in the Susquehanna River Watershed relying on a bid process. The program does not include sediment, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed’s biggest water quality problem and has no funding.
Reaction - PEC: This Represents Only An Empty Shell Without Funding
The PA Environmental Council sent this letter on the amended bill to Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair who both worked on the revised language--
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, thank you for your bipartisan efforts to incorporate Senator Killion’s Senate Bill 705 and the Growing Greener III initiative into Senate Bill 799, and to make significant changes to the underlying legislation.
The Growing Greener Program framework in the amended bill, when funded, would represent a critical step toward addressing many of Pennsylvania’s most challenging environmental cleanup and restoration needs, which are faced by communities, businesses, and citizens across the Commonwealth.
At the same time, we are pleased that both of you recognize that without new, significant sources of funding to support this initiative, the bill stands as an empty shell that could prove detrimental. We believe the final version of this legislation, before being sent to the Governor, must be accompanied by a dedicated and sustainable funding source. It is essential that Senate leadership demonstrate their commitment to this need.
With respect to the underlying procurement program in Senate Bill 799, there must be full vetting to ensure that the methodology truly sets a level playing field, and constitutes verifiable use of taxpayer money. These safeguards must also ensure that it will not hamper existing, proven programs that benefit Pennsylvania farmers and water quality. We believe the program should be established as a pilot that is limited in scope and duration, and subject to ongoing evaluation to ensure it is helping Pennsylvania meet its federal mandates.
We look forward to working with you to improve this legislation as it moves forward, and again greatly appreciate your support.
Reaction - PA Growing Greener Coalition: No Funding Source In Face Of $300 Million Annual Need
The PA Growing Greener Coalition Executive Director Andrew Health said this in reaction to the bill’s passing, ““We acknowledge that this is a process, and the Coalition is committed to working with the General Assembly and the Governor to ensure that additional funding needed for the program can be achieved this year.”
The Coalition sent this letter to members of the Senate Tuesday on the revised legislation--
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Coalition, the largest coalition of conservation, recreation and preservation organizations in the Commonwealth, I want to express my appreciation for your interest and willingness to amend Senate Bill 799 to include the Growing Greener III framework legislative language introduced by Senator Tom Killion earlier this session as Senate Bill 705.
This represents a positive step in achieving a viable Growing Greener III program by the end of the year, and we are encouraged that you understand how important the Growing Greener III program is in tackling the ever-increasing unmet needs facing communities throughout the Commonwealth.
Established in 1999, the state’s Growing Greener program has funded hundreds of local parks and trail projects, conserved more than 80,000 acres of threatened open space, and restored hundreds of miles of streams and waterways. The program has also protected more than 78,000 acres of farmland, restored more than 1,600 acres of abandoned mine land, and helped reduce flooding and water pollution through 400 watershed protection projects and more than 100 drinking and wastewater treatment improvements.
In addition to funding the Department of Agriculture (PDA), Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PennVEST), the Growing Greener III framework legislation enhances the current program by adding agencies and additional programs to better address the needs facing the Commonwealth.
For example, the framework legislation authorizes the funding of a Working Forest Conservation Easement initiative to protect the state’s forests and ensure a healthy forest industry and reflects the urgent need to address water quality issues in the Susquehanna River watershed by requiring certain state agencies to allocate a percentage of Growing Greener ESF funds for projects in the watershed. It enables the PDA to use Growing Greener dollars to support best management practices on farms which will also help improve local water quality.
Once fully-funded, this Growing Greener III program will be the largest investment ever made by the Commonwealth to meet its commitment under the Chesapeake Bay watershed agreement. The state’s failure to meet its targets to date makes the passage of Growing Greener III even more urgent.
The Coalition is encouraged by recent changes made to the original version of SB 799, including the removal of language that weakened local communities’ responsibilities to address water quality issues through MS4 programs. However, more information is needed to better understand the provisions in the legislation dealing with nutrient trading, procurement methodology and the innovative technology fund.
Unfortunately, the amendment also removes a provision of Senate Bill 705 that would have transferred the Growing Greener II Bond debt service payment out of the Growing Greener Environmental Stewardship Fund. We remain encouraged that as the process moves along, the General Assembly will explore a list of options to fund Growing Greener III. Senate Bill 705 is supported by a bipartisan group of twenty-seven Senators.
The Coalition agrees that science and technology will play a critical role in addressing the Commonwealth’s environmental challenges and, supports pursuing innovative solutions to solving those challenges.  However, these innovations must demonstrate real, tangible, cost-effective results that will maximize the investments being made with recognized progress. In its current form, it is unclear whether SB 799 meets these requirements, but our coalition supports moving the conversation along with a positive vote on SB 799 as amended with the Growing Greener framework.
In its current form, the legislation does not identify funding sources for either the Growing Greener Environmental Stewardship Fund or the Innovative Technology fund. The Coalition has identified more than $300+ million in annual needs to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to clean water, locally grown food, and parks, trails and other recreational opportunities. The final version of this legislation must be accompanied by a sustainable funding source prior to being sent to the Governor.
The Coalition understands that this is a process and we are committed to working with all parties to ensure that a fully-funded Growing Greener III program can be achieved.  Once this legislation passes the Senate, which we hope will happen soon, we will work with our legislative champions in the House to address any outstanding issues and identifying the funding sources needed to make this program work.
Sincerely, Andrew Heath, Executive Director, PA Growing Greener Coalition.
[Note: This post will be updated as other comments are released.]

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