Tuesday, July 28, 2020

PennFuture Releases A Green Stimulus & Recovery Platform For Pennsylvania Report


A rampant global health pandemic. A deep and rapid decline in Pennsylvania’s economy that is nearly double that of the Great Recession of 2008. Rising racial inequality. 

Nearly 3 million Pennsylvanians seeking unemployment benefits since mid-March. Small businesses shuttered—some permanently—as Pennsylvania’s economy struggles to reopen. 

It’s abundantly clear that these are unprecedented times, and that our leaders in all levels of government will have to spend the next several years advancing economic and public health solutions that spur our economy towards recovery. 

That’s why PennFuture released a strategic roadmap to guide our leaders to implement a green stimulus recovery plan for Pennsylvania.

This 50-page report lays out specific policy recommendations that leverage Pennsylvania’s growing nature-based, clean energy, and low-carbon industries to put people back to work and build a more resilient and sustainable economy.

All told, PennFuture’s policy platform is estimated to amount to $2.8 billion in investments, which would preserve or create as many as 389,000 jobs in the Commonwealth, including nearly 37,200 shovel-ready jobs, while also reducing pollution, promoting our natural resources, and advancing public health.

The report has four overarching goals that guide each recommendation made within the document--

-- Safely restart Pennsylvania’s economy in a way that reduces pollution and is protective of human health.

-- Avoid state budget cuts that will harm our businesses and slow recovery.  

In times of recession, state policymakers often rely on agency cuts and layoffs to balance the budget against declining revenue, often targeting environmental, conservation, agriculture, and wildlife programs. 

Turning the budget knife on these programs again will only prolong our current economic decline. State policymakers should reject broad-based austerity measures and instead advance policies that build upon these important agencies to jumpstart the economy.

-- Target short-term investments that provide family-sustaining wages; and

-- Advance long-term investments to support sustainable infrastructure and industries that contribute to resilient, clean and profitable communities. 


Among the recommendations included in the report are--

-- Nature-based small businesses and outdoor recreation are crucial to the Commonwealth’s economic recovery, particularly to more rural areas of the state. We recommend state policymakers do the following:

-- Create a one-stop shop of recovery guidance for nature-based businesses.

-- Develop a Reopening Pennsylvania Nature Tourism report on safely reopening during the pandemic.

-- Launch an Explore PA’s Natural Beauty Campaign, targeting in-state residents on how to safely take advantage of Pennsylvania’s outdoor amenities during the pandemic.

-- Pass legislation allowing small business tax deductions for safety measures and expenses.

-- Increase funding for DCNR’s Community Conservation Partnership Program Grants and temporarily

eliminate the matching requirement.

-- Provide operating grants of at least $25 million to state Community Development Financial Institutions and other regional economic development entities to support nature-based small businesses in regions impacted the most by the pandemic, including low-income black and brown communities and environmental justice areas.

-- Re-capitalize the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program by at least $100 million to support nature-based businesses in regions that may not be able to reopen during the summer and fall tourism seasons.

-- Support Small Farmers and Food Producers. Pennsylvania’s farmers are in crisis. As a key player in the state economy, but also important stewards of our natural spaces looked at to reduce pollution, we recommend policymakers do the following to support them:

-- Develop resources to connect job seekers to opportunities on farms during harvesting.

-- Expand the COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program by $250 million and increase eligibility to

keep small family farms from cutting payroll to avoid bankruptcy during the pandemic.

-- Re-capitalize the Resource Enhancement and Protection tax credit by $25 million and allow for more flexible credit trading.

-- Expand DCNR’s Riparian Forest Buffer program to $1 million.

-- Increase PDA’s Farmland Preservation program to $76 million to preserve more farmland during

the pandemic and offset reductions in county investments.

-- Establish an Agricultural Cost-Share Program and initially fund it at $25 million per year to invest in farm pollution reduction projects that also improve land productivity.

-- Create a PA Conservation and Economic Recovery Corps (CERC). Pennsylvania should implement a modern-day Conservation Corps (CERC) to put people back to work with family-sustaining wages that rebuild our natural infrastructure:

-- Set a goal of hiring at least 15,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians in the first 12 months for at least 6-month terms, which could be extended based on their needs and project needs.

-- In addition to unemployed skilled workers, CERC should also provide employment opportunities for students, graduates, youth, and black and brown communities which are being disproportion- ately impacted by the pandemic.

-- Projects would focus on state park and forest maintenance, habitat management, green storm- water infrastructure construction, stream buffer implementation, Main Street beautification, agriculture projects, tree planting, and other natural infrastructure needs.

--  CERC would provide family-sustaining wages of at least $24/hour, plus health benefits, paid sick leave, and paid time off.

-- Counties should submit lists of CERC-based job opportunities, organized by DCNR’s nature-based regions, heritage areas, urban communities, and environmental justice areas so that projects are equitably spread across the Commonwealth.

-- Address Legacy Drilling and Mining Pollution. Abandoned mines and orphaned oil and gas wells have created legacy pollution issues scarring Pennsylvania’s landscapes, polluting its waters, diminishing outdoor activity experiences and holding back economic development. To create jobs and new development opportunities, policymakers should:

-- Invest $453 million over 4 years in DEP’s Abandoned & Orphan Well Program to clear a backlog of 9,000 abandoned wells that are “shovel-ready.”

-- Invest $220 million over 4 years in DEP for mine reclamation projects, doubling the number of projects sourced through existing funds.

-- By pressuring Pennsylvania’s elected federal policymakers, support and pass the RECLAIM Act, which would provide at least $300 million in mine reclamation funding to the state.

Modernize Our Homes and Businesses through Energy Efficiency Projects. Energy efficiency is one of the largest clean energy industries in Pennsylvania and is well situated to implement projects that save homeowners, renters, and businesses money as well as reduce pollution:

-- Increase borrowing authority of the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program by $250 million to issue grants for energy efficiency retrofits in schools.

-- Re-capitalize the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority by $100 million to provide financial vehicles for large efficiency projects.

-- Work with the PUC to convene stakeholders to share best energy practices, develop new tools, and build consensus on advance payment provisions.

-- Increase funding for DEP’s Small Business Advantage program to $10 million and increase project caps for efficiency projects at small businesses.

-- Expand the DEP Small Business Pollution Prevention Assistance Account to $20 million and expand loan eligibility to multifamily buildings.

-- Expand DCED’s Weatherization Assistance Program by $20 million to support grants to low-income housing retrofits.

-- Support Shovel-Ready Clean Water Infrastructure Projects. Pennsylvania has significant clean water infrastructure needs, many of which are shovel-ready, providing good-paying jobs, supporting utilities financially impacted by the pandemic, and providing clean water:

-- Appropriate $360 million over 4 years to PennVEST for drinking water and wastewater infrastruc- ture projects, including set-asides for designing and implementing green infrastructure projects.

-- Amend Act 30 of 2018 to include green stormwater infrastructure in the definition of “water conservation project,” so that clean water projects are eligible for Commercial PACE programs.

-- Create a Green Stormwater Infrastructure Grant program at DEP, initially funded at $25 million, to support projects in the design phase, including support for municipalities designing local projects.

--Double Down on Pennsylvania’s Resilient Clean Energy Economy

The following policy proposals are recommended as part of a broader economic recovery package to strengthen and expand Pennsylvania’s rapidly growing clean energy industries.

-- Enable Community Solar. Pass bipartisan legislation that allows for community solar, increasing by 50 to 75 percent the number of PA residents with access to solar power if they choose to do so. This would create good paying skilled labor jobs as well as reduce pollution. Current bipartisan bills exist to do so, including House Bill 531 (Kaufer-R-Luzerne) and Senate Bill 705 (Scavello-R-Monroe).

--Incentivize Grid-Scale Solar. Amend the state Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act to ensure that a certain percentage of energy credits are obtained through competitively-bid long-term contracts as well as increase the share of electricity the state must source from renewable energy. Current bills exist to do so, including the bipartisan Senate Bill 600 (Haywood-D-Philadelphia).

-- Expand Energy Efficiency Opportunities. Pennsylvania’s energy efficiency laws have saved ratepayers significant money while reducing energy consumption and pollution. With a few tweaks, these laws could open up additional economic develop and job creation opportunities, including:

-- Remove the investments caps in Act 129 to allow for more energy efficiency projects at no net cost to consumers.

-- Enact legislation to require the PUC to inquire if investment in available energy efficiency measures could achieve the same goals in proposed electric utility rate increases.

-- Amend Act 30 of 2018 to include multi-family residential units as eligible to participate in commercial PACE programs so that landlords can retrofit apartment buildings, creating jobs as well as improving the quality of life for renters.

-- Invest in Clean Transportation. The market for electric vehicles is growing and is expected to grow rapidly by 2030. Targeted investments in infrastructure would allow PA to take part in this growth, including:

-- Prepare a transportation electrification opportunity assessment and set a statewide goal for vehicle electrification of at least 50 percent above business-as-usual by 2030. Existing bipartisan legislation exists to do so, including the bipartisan Senate Bill 596 (Mensch-R-Montgomery).

-- Implement a cap-and-invest program to fund clean vehicles and infrastructure investments. One such initiative is the Transportation Climate Initiative Regional Policy Development Process.

-- Convene a Green Recovery Summit for Municipal Officials

Gov. Tom Wolf should convene a statewide Green Recovery Summit of local and county officials to develop and adopt a sustainable and equitable economic recovery framework. The convening would develop a priority list of clean infrastructure projects so that state agencies can take quick action as well as provide a consensus framework document that will guide future stimulus and recovery investments at the local level.

-- Next Steps and Paying for State Stimulus and Recovery Policies

It is widely expected that the federal government will continue to leverage its historically low interest rates and borrow funds to support state and municipal recovery efforts. 

Pennsylvania’s policy leaders, particularly Gov.Wolf, should not be passive in these efforts and should work with state congressional leaders to shape future federal stimulus plans. 

Federal stimulus investments will provide funds for the types of programs recommended in this agenda as well as fill other state budget holes, freeing up flexibility to invest further in stimulus and recovery efforts. 

Certainly, federal stimulus dollars will not provide full funding for recovery efforts and state policymakers will have to develop new revenue options. This agenda provides a list of potential revenue options as part of a broader recovery reform platform.

“Our recommendations in the report are many and varied, but we staunchly believe they collectively provide a clear vision for recovery and economic stability in Pennsylvania,” said PennFuture Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff Matthew Stepp. “It’s clear that Pennsylvania is at an inflection point. We either pursue old and tired methods of recovery that rely on slashing budgets and public sector jobs, or we chart a new direction that creates a new and sustainable economy while serving the dual purpose of addressing the climate crisis.”

According to a recent study from Oxford University that analyzed 700 separate stimulus policies from the Great Recession, projects that focus dually on economic recovery and reductions in greenhouse gas emissions deliver higher returns on government spending both in the short and long term.

Our leaders also cannot turn to industry to jumpstart this recovery. Carbon dioxide emissions skyrocketed by 5.1 percent in 2009 when America’s economy finally started to bounce back from the Great Recession. 

It is indisputable that Pennsylvania, similar to the rest of the world, is at a critical juncture where we must make concerted and dedicated efforts to drastically cut our carbon footprint immediately.

"After generations of relying on polluting and toxic industries to grow the state's economy, it's time for Pennsylvania to chart a new path,” said Madeleine Smith, a clean water advocacy campaign manager for PennFuture and a lead author of the report. “This report identifies tangible policy actions Pennsylvania can take to recover from the COVID-19 economic crisis and lead the way towards a more sustainable economy. The age of fossil fuel reliance is over and the time for clean energy is now."

“The choice to implement a green recovery for Pennsylvania is ours, and the chance to emerge from this historic challenge as better, cleaner, more resilient Pennsylvania is at our fingertips. Here’s to hoping our elected officials are listening,” Stepp concluded. 

Click Here to read the report.

For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the PennFuture website.


-- Rachel McDevitt: Green Stimulus Proposals Calls For Departure From Legislative Business As Usual

-- Op-Ed: A Green, Positive Vision For A More Resilient PA - Matthew Stepp, PennFuture

Related Article:

-- 4 State Coalition Unveils Blueprint To 'Reimagine Appalachia' Economy For Workers, Communities, Environment

[Posted: July 28, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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