Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Senate OKs Keystone Tree Fund Bill, Now Goes To Governor For His Action

On October 29, the Senate unanimously approved and sent to the Governor House Bill 374 (Everett-R-Lycoming) to establish the Keystone Tree Fund.  The bill allows driver and vehicle license owners to add $3.00 to those fees to support DCNR riparian buffer and tree planting programs starting in July 2020.
While it’s difficult to estimate how much income would be generated by the new checkoff, a similar driver and vehicle license checkoff for the Gov. Robert P. Casey Memorial organ and Tissue Donation Awareness Trust Fund, created in 1994, is expected to generate about $709,000 in FY 2019-20.
PennDOT said the new program would cost $150,000 the first year to set up.  Those expenses would come out of the Tree Fund.
Bills establishing the Keystone Tree Fund were first introduced in the General Assembly by Rep. Everett and Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, in May of 2018.
Of course, everything helps, like House Bill 374, and that should not be dismissed because the involvement of each Pennsylvanian is critical in cleaning up our rivers and streams.
But, where’s the rest of the $324 million we need this year just for Pennsylvania’s part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, let alone statewide needs?
The Need
There is a tremendous need for additional state funding to address critical drinking water, wastewater and nutrient and sediment reduction issues all across Pennsylvania.
For the 43-county Chesapeake Bay Watershed alone, the need is $324 million each year for the next 6 years to implement the ground-up, stakeholder-driven plan submitted to EPA to meet Pennsylvania’s clean water obligations.
Funding needs to start in FY 2019-20, if Pennsylvania has any chance of meeting our  2025 cleanup milestones.  
If the funding is not provided, Pennsylvania will be subject to sanctions from EPA and additional legal actions by other states in the Bay Watershed.
And worst of all, Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams will not get cleaned up. Limping along with existing resources means meeting the 2025 milestones will be pushed back to 2044-- 19 years.
The General Assembly did provide $6 million in additional funding through the PA Farm Bill in July, but that still leaves the farm community tens of millions of dollars short-- $171 million to put a number on it-- to support putting cost-effective conservation practices on the ground just this year.
However, the General Assembly also cut $16 million from the Environmental Stewardship Fund which funded local, on-the-ground conservation practices.
Click Here for more background on water quality funding needs in Pennsylvania.
For more information on how Pennsylvania is meeting its water pollution reduction obligations, visit DEP’s PA’s Chesapeake Bay Plan webpage.
Harry Campbell, Pennsylvania Office Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, offered this statement on final passage of the bill--
“Passing the Keystone Tree Fund is a positive step for the Commonwealth’s communities and creeks by giving Pennsylvanians the opportunity to invest in the future of cleaner rivers and streams.
“Roughly 40,000 miles of our rivers and streams are damaged by pollution and trees are one of the most cost-effective tools for improving local water quality.
“Along streams, trees filter and absorb polluted runoff, improve soil health, and cleanse drinking water sources. They also cool the water and improve habitat for important critters like brook trout and the Eastern hellbender.
“Along streets they help cleanse and reduce runoff going into storm drains, beautify communities, and sequester carbon.
“Additional resources through the Keystone Tree Fund will accelerate efforts to reach the Commonwealth’s Clean Water Blueprint goal of 95,000 acres of forested buffers in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is a goal shared by DCNR and CBF.
“The Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership, coordinated by CBF, was launched last year and intends to plant 10 million trees in the Commonwealth by the end of 2025.”
For more on Chesapeake Bay-related issues in Pennsylvania, visit the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA webpage.  Click Here to sign up for Pennsylvania updates (bottom of left column).  Click Here to support their work.
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[Posted: October 29, 2019]  wwwPaEnvironmentDigest.com  

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