Thursday, January 23, 2020

Analysis: 2020 Is A Make Or Break Year For Environmental Funding

Farmers, communities, local governments, authorities, businesses and local, regional and state conservation and environmental agencies have been the target of unprecedented cuts in state funding to improve the environment over the last decade.  
At the same time, they are now providing the only real leadership we have to do the right thing to protect and restore the environment, and are struggling to find that same leadership among state politicians that will help them.
An unprecedented stakeholder and data-driven initiative by agriculture, local governments, authorities, conservation districts, forestry, academic institutions and real Pennsylvanians came to an agreement on Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Plan to meet Chesapeake Bay water cleanup obligations laying out in detail what we need to do and how much it will cost. Click Here for more.
Going forward, a locally-focused, county clean water stakeholder planning process, already completed by 4 counties, will lay out more actions to reduce water pollution. 
A new science-based report on water quality in streams in the Commonwealth found 40 percent of the streams in the state still do not meet water quality standards for drinking, swimming and fishing.  Click Here for more - and find out how clean streams near you are.
A broad cross-section of Pennsylvanians provided the leadership to do an analysis of State Parks and Forests and put a spotlight on the need to address a $1 billion backlog of maintenance and public safety improvement projects.  Click Here for more.
For the first time in recent memory, all of Pennsylvania’s major hunting, angler and wildlife groups called for more state investment in the restoration of the watersheds, natural lands and recreational assets of the Commonwealth.  Click Here for more.
Dozens of community-based citizen groups across Pennsylvania called for new state investment to restore the environment, prevent flooding, improve recreational resources and prevent cuts in existing funding to support community-based environmental projects.  Click Here for more.
These investments would result in--
-- Major reductions in property damage and loss of human life caused by flooding
-- Progress for local governments in meeting MS4 [stormwater] requirements
-- State progress in meeting mandatory Chesapeake Bay [nutrient reduction] requirements
-- Safer drinking water and lower water treatment costs
-- More miles of streams restored for recreation and economic use
-- Federal investments leveraged that otherwise would not come to Pennsylvani
-- Boosts to the agricultural and outdoor recreation industries
-- Restoring parks for communities across the Commonwealth
-- And much more
They pointed to a variety of polling which showed 75 percent of Republican voters, 82 percent of Democrats, and 87 percent of independents support spending more on conservation, even if it would mean taxing themselves more to do it. (See survey results.)
Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at the conclusion of the hearing on DEP’s budget last year that the way the Commonwealth funds its environmental protection programs is “not sustainable” and “not having predictability in environmental protection is a dangerous thing.”
“I know this concerns you [DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell] as well. Not having predictability in environmental protection is a dangerous thing,” said Sen. Browne.  “It’s what we have available now based on the revenue capacity of the Commonwealth, but going forward there will need to be a serious conversation about how we fund these very important operations.”
Time To Act - The Roadmap Is Clear
In 2019, thousands of Pennsylvanians all across the Commonwealth clearly identified the state investment and leadership needed to support farmers, communities, local governments, authorities, businesses and local, regional and state conservation and environmental agencies.
Their work has provided a yardstick for measuring any budget proposals made for the FY 2020-21 state budget, and it’s simple and clear--
-- River & Stream Cleanup: Stakeholders found a minimum of $324 million is needed annually to meet Pennsylvania’s river and stream cleanup obligations that support real, cost-effective pollution reduction solutions.
-- State Park & Forest Maintenance/Safety Projects: A minimum of $100 million is needed annually to address the backlog of maintenance and safety projects in State Parks and Forests.
-- Make Act 13 Programs Whole: With Act 13 drilling revenues projected to drop by $53.6 million this year, the program needs to be restored to the level of at least $250 million, especially with natural gas production at record levels in Pennsylvania.
-- No More Poaching: There should be no more poaching of monies from environmental and recreation funds that support community-based watershed, recreation and mine reclamation projects to pay for agency administrative costs.
-- Reinvest In Environmental Agencies: Make a downpayment in the budget to support electronic and other initiatives that will be a real solution to reducing permit review times, increasing staff efficiencies, without sacrificing environmental protections as the Independent Fiscal Office recently highlighted.
Some in the General Assembly and Gov. Wolf have acknowledged the way we fund environmental programs is not sustainable and the needs are great.  
More state legislators need to take that to heart and need to act.
The time for “serious conversations” is now.
On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, we need to remember the significant environmental improvements of the last 50 years did not come easily and they weren’t cheap.  
They were hard-won victories over entrenched and politically powerful interests that did not want to change.
They were forced to change by a tidal wave of citizen concern and activism, many of us very young at the time, that made it clear, over and over again, they believed what Pennsylvania’s constitution says-- 
“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.”
These are not idle words.  They must be read with the same respect and the same force and power as the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech, religion and the right to bear arms.
2020 is an election year.  It is a make or break year for environmental funding and for your communities.
You know what to do.  
Click Here to find out who you need to call and call, write, email and fax them until you’re tired.  
And then call, write, email and fax them again.
You cannot be ignored.
(Written by David E. Hess, former DEP Secretary.  Send comments to:
[Posted: January 23, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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