Monday, June 10, 2019

Analysis: Will The General Assembly Provide The REAL Resources Everyone Agrees Are Needed To Clean Up Our Rivers & Streams?

Two and a half years ago-- January 24, 2017-- the bipartisan Pennsylvania members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission dramatically wrote to all members of the Senate and House to spotlight the need for many more resources to address water pollution cleanup obligations across the state.
They highlighted the need for a dedicated Clean Water Fund.
The letter was signed by Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Sen. Rich Alloway (R-Franklin)- now retired, Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), Rep. Keith Gillespie (R-York) and Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster).
They said in the letter-- "Clean water is fundamental to public health and our economy. Unfortunately, almost one-quarter of Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers are not safe for either drinking, swimming, fishing or aquatic life.
"As legislative members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, we know that practices to improve water quality are not without cost.
"Our state and local governments have already spent significant dollars to upgrade wastewater treatment plants and farmers are implementing best management practices.
"Unfortunately, much more needs to be done, not just for the Bay, but more importantly for our own local waters.
"The good news is that these practices work, and much of the remaining effort can be achieved with some of the most cost-effective practices available. Investment in clean water directly benefits local governments and landowners, and provides local jobs.
"By taking care of our own local waters, we also reduce regulatory uncertainty that can arise from pollution of downstream neighbors, whether in the Chesapeake, Ohio, Delaware or Great Lakes watersheds.
"Please take a moment to read the enclosed report. We hope that you will join us in a thoughtful conversation about legislation to address this important issue."
At a joint hearing by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy and Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees in October of 2016, there was unanimous agreement that more resources were needed to meet Pennsylvania’s water pollution cleanup commitment to the Chesapeake Bay and throughout the state and that there were no magic bullets to meet those obligations.
During state budget hearings in March 2016 for the departments of Environmental Protection and Agriculture, both Secretaries made the point more resources were needed to meet Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay and other water cleanup obligations.
During state budget hearings in March 2015, the Department of Environmental Protection said Pennsylvania is not meeting its Chesapeake Bay obligations in large part because the resources aren’t there to help farmers.
In August 2013, Penn State University’s Environmental and Natural Resources Institute did a study saying to fully comply with EPA’s 2025 pollution reduction mandates on agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed alone, it would cost some $3.6 billion.
And, it was no secret way before that, because groups like the Growing Greener Coalition, Choose Clean Water, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Farm Bureau, Conservation Districts, local governments and authorities and many others told the General Assembly more help was needed.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which, along with the states in the watershed, administers the Chesapeake Bay Program, one specific obligation Pennsylvania must meet, has also repeatedly warned the state over the last decade, but more insistently in the last few years.
In June of 2017, EPA wrote a letter to Pennsylvania warning the state it needs a realistic plan showing how it will provide enough funding and staff to dramatically ramp up its Bay-related pollution control efforts, or it could face a variety of potentially costly federal actions.
In June of 2018, EPA reinforced that letter by laying out a series of “expectations” for the Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan Pennsylvania and other states will submit this fall.  One of those expectations was obtaining significant new resources to improve water quality.
What Happened Since Then?
Instead of one-quarter of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams not being “safe for either drinking, swimming, fishing or aquatic life” as the 2017 letter by the legislators said, 40 percent do not meet federal water quality standards.
The draft PA Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan developed from the ground up after an extensive stakeholder process specifically documented the need for an additional $1.5 billion over the next 6 years to help get on-farm conservation, stormwater water pollution reduction and other best management practices on the ground in the 43 county Pennsylvania portion of the Bay Watershed alone.
The draft Plan includes a menu of options for providing the $257 million in increased annual funding needed by farmers and communities to implement the Plan.
The Plan says if the resources aren’t provided, Pennsylvania will not meet the 2025 nitrogen reduction goal until at least 2044.
What’s On The Table?
What potential solutions are on the table now?
-- A water pollution procurement program in Senate Bill 575 that will guarantee only the highest per pound cost for nutrient and sediment reductions will be funded, when we have documented and know what the cheapest and most effective practices are. (The 2017 letter said so.) The bill would commit $20 million in taxpayer money next year to these high-cost practices.  Click Here for more.
-- Keystone Tree Fund-- Senate Bill 108 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) and House Bill 374 (Everett-R- Lycoming) that establishes a $3 voluntary donation on vehicle and drivers’ licenses to fund tree planting efforts, if enacted. Click Here for more.
-- Farm Conservation Grant Program-- Senate Bill 634 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) and House Bill 1517 (Zimmerman-R-Lancaster)-- that could devote a proposed $5 million or so in the coming year to farm conservation efforts, if enacted.  Click Here for more.
-- PA Farm Bill proposed by Gov. Wolf that could increase the Resource Enhancement and Protection Tax Credits from $10 million to $13 million per year, if enacted. Click Here for more.
-- The Restore Pennsylvania Infrastructure Plan proposed by Gov. Wolf was just introduced last week in bill form with nearly enough co-sponsors in the House and Senate to pass the bills.  It would provide significant financial assistance to get farm conservation, stormwater and green infrastructure on the ground. The hang-up? It would be funded by a new severance tax on natural gas production not supported by Republican leadership in either the House or Senate.  Click Here for more.
-- Two Senate Republicans last week introduced a Restore PA-Lite proposal that would establish a Green Infrastructure Fund to address many of the funding needs.  The hang-up? It would be funded by authorizing more natural gas drilling in State Forests. The facts are no one is clamoring to lease more State Forest land for drilling, only 35 percent or so of the existing drilling leases have been developed and it may be unconstitutional.  It seems like a very empty proposal. Click Here for more.
Other possible funding sources have been suggested from eliminating the Sales Tax exemption for bottle water and teas ($75 to $80 million) and letting the General Fund pay for the debt service to the Growing Greener II bond issue rather than the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund freeing up money for restoration projects ($26 million or so).
Threats To Existing Funds
Of course there are also very real threats to take money AWAY from existing sources for community-based environmental restoration and recreation projects in the form of Gov. Wolf’s proposed budget in February and from many conservative House and Senate Republicans.
They have proposed taking money from the Environmental Stewardship Fund, the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and the Recycling Fund to pay for the operating expenses of DEP and DCNR not for local environmental improvement projects.
So, where does that leave us?
Farmers who need to install on-farm conservation practices and communities needing to make stormwater water pollution reductions need significant financial and technical help to meet their legal obligations… NOW.
In the absence of a significant increase in state resources to help them-- and the need is well documented--  the burden will fall squarely on them to fund these green infrastructure improvements.
That would mean more debt for farmers at a time when dairy farmers in particular are struggling and communities will have no choice to impose local stormwater pollution reduction fees and they are doing just that.
Without REAL leadership in the General Assembly and REAL solutions, there will be consequences-- again very well documented, especially in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed-- for not meeting Pennsylvania’s clean water obligations.
The opportunity for leadership is NOW, not later.
Will the General Assembly lead?
Emma Stone, one of the high school student leaders involved in getting the Eastern Hellbender recognized as Pennsylvania’s state amphibian and clean water ambassador, said in April getting the designation was a huge win after working more than 2 years on the project.
“But we’re not done yet,” said Stone. “Streams and rivers throughout Pennsylvania are vulnerable to pollution because they lack streamside trees to protect them from runoff. This is bad news for the hellbender, which requires clean and cool water to survive.
“But it’s also bad news for the rest of us, who depend on clean water for drinking, fishing, and swimming.
“As I finish my senior year at Carlisle High School, I am determined to build on our progress and do more for clean water. My hope is that other student leaders across the Commonwealth will be inspired by our work and encouraged that they, too, can make a difference.”
Will the General Assembly disappoint Emma and her crew?
Will the only clean water initiative to come out of this session of the General Assembly be to designate the Eastern Hellbender?
Decisions will be made on the FY 2019-20 state budget in the next 3 weeks.
Will the General Assembly lead or punt like it has for the last 6 years and more?
Remember, it’s not nice to fool the Hellbender!
(Written by David E. Hess, former Secretary of DEP.  Comments should be sent to: )
Take Action!
Analysis: What If The Senate And House Had To Adopt Laws Like DEP Adopts Regulations?

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner