Thursday, June 25, 2020

June, 1995 Op-Ed: Meeting The Need - Restructuring DER - 4 Former DER Secretaries

The following editorial column was submitted to daily newspapers around the state and printed in the
June 9, 1995 DEP Update newsletter. It expresses the views of four former DER Secretaries on the proposed splitting of the Department of Environmental Resources into DEP and DCNR.

By Dr. Maurice K. Goddard, Clifford L. Jones, Peter S. Duncan, and Nicholas DeBenedictis

As former Secretaries of the Department of Environmental Resources, we all faced different issues as we implemented different environmental policies serving different governors.
There was one constant for all of us, however — we never seemed to have enough time to give adequate attention to our 114 State Parks and our 2.3 million acres of State Forests.

We believe it’s time to create a cabinet-level Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as a full-time advocate for the Commonwealth’s State Parks and State Forests and to promote better management of the Commonwealth’s outdoor recreation opportunities, its precious natural resources and its rivers.

We know from experience how difficult it is to provide the time necessary to make important policy decisions for our state parks and forests. We were consumed by the pressing environmental crises that demanded our attention, practically every day.

It seems that if we had to make a choice, our parks and forests always got the short straw, in part because they seemed able to carry on by themselves. But now, they have “carried on” for a quarter century and they need help.

Two years ago, the Key ‘93 initiative to restore our parks and recreation infrastructure became necessary partly because of the fiscal and managerial neglect of our parks and forests.

The Bureaus of State Parks and State Forests, both 100 years old, were already mature

programs led by professionals. They didn’t need as much help as the many new Environmental Protection programs that DER was constantly adding. They could be counted on to stay in the course while we wrestled with the emergencies that popped up every day.

The problem is, of course, that DER’s resource management programs have now been in this holding pattern for nearly 25 years. There has never been enough time to adequately explore possible growth of the state’s treasures. Instead, even maintenance has been cut as other priorities leap ahead in line.

Pennsylvania’s State Parks system is the third largest in the country and a major component of the Commonwealth’s tourism and recreation industry, the state’s second largest industry.

Expenditures for outdoor recreation exceed $6 billion annually.

The forest products industry employs over 100,000 people and contributes over $4.5 billion to Pennsylvania’s economy. 

The new department will provide a “seat at the table” for these important issues. The new department will also allow greater efficiencies in implementing the Key ‘93 recreation and conservation programs and by efficiently consolidating all the state’s recreation planning functions.

These great Pennsylvania resources deserve the new standing and direction that a cabinet-level department will provide them.

A restructured Department of Environmental Protection that retains the core functions of protecting our air, water and land from pollution will be free to concentrate on working with business, local governments and individuals to achieve better compliance.

Thirty-five other states, including neighbors Maryland and Ohio, as well as the federal government, manage their natural resources in agencies separate from their environmental protection agency.

We agree and think it’s time Pennsylvania split DER into two cabinet-level agencies. It benefits all aspects of our environment, especially our parks and forests.

Dr. Goddard was the last Secretary of the Department of Forests and Waters and the first Secretary of the then-new Department of Environmental Resources from January 1971 through 1979. Mr. Jones was DER Secretary from 1979 through 1981, Mr. Duncan from 1981 to 1983, and Mr. DeBenedictis from 1983 to 1987.

PA Conservation History

For more on Pennsylvania’s conservation history, visit the PA Conservation Heritage Project website.

Related Article - History:

-- DCNR Blog: The Department Of Conservation & Natural Resources At A Quarter Of A Century

-- DCNR Good Natured Pennsylvanians: John C. Oliver, First Secretary Of DCNR

--Feature: Looking Back To Improve Pennsylvania’s Environment Going Forward

--20 Years Of Growing Greener: A Celebration Of Leadership, Partnership, Accomplishment

--1995-2002 - Environmental Accomplishments Of The Ridge & Schweiker Administrations

--1995-2002: Awards And Recognition For Environmental Programs During The Ridge & Schweiker Administrations

Related Articles - Parks & Forests:

--PA Parks & Forests Foundation Launches New Protect Our Parks And Forests Website

--House Republicans Moving Bill To Reallocate Keystone Fund, Damage Vitality Of PA’s Outdoor Economy

--House Republicans Pass Bill To Freeze Funding For County Conservation Districts, Local Parks, Farm Conservation, Watershed Restoration Projects; Will Hurt Local Economies

-- New PEC Podcast: Fmr Gov. Tom Ridge On Conservatives Being Out Of Touch On The Environment

-- Op-Ed:My Fellow Conservatives Are Out Of Touch On The Environment - Fmr. Gov. Tom Ridge

[Posted: June 25, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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