Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Witnesses Unanimously Support Allocating American Rescue Plan Funding For Farm Conservation Projects At House Committee Meeting; Rep. Metcalfe Calls It ‘Welfare’

On January 24, the
House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee heard unanimous support for legislation  allocating at least $250 million from federal American Rescue Plan funding to a new state Clean Water Fund and establishing the Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program to fund on-farm conservation projects to improve water quality in the Commonwealth.

The support came just a week after the Department of Environmental Protection reported a record 27,886 miles of Pennsylvania’s streams-- one-third--  do not meet water quality standards with agricultural pollution the second leading cause.  Read more here.

The groups supporting allocating American Rescue Plan for conservation included the PA Farm Bureau, County Conservation Districts, the Chesapeake Bay Commission and Rep. Johnathan Hershey (R-Juniata), the prime sponsor of House Bill 1901, which was the subject of the informational meeting.

David Graybill, PA Farm Bureau Board Of Directors, “Contained in House Bill l90l is a program called the Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program, which is our organization's leading public priority this year.

“ACAP would provide yearly funding to each county Conservation District to help farmers pay for best management practices that reduce soil loss and result in clean water. 

“House Bill 1901 calls for the allocation of 5250 million to clean water funding initiatives, including $125 million for the ACAP program. This will result in county conservation districts receiving four years of predictable funding that they can use to help farmers implement best management practices.

“Pennsylvania farmers are committed to running their farms in a way that protects the environment, and results in clean local water. At the same time, mandates coming from the federal government are not going away. 

“As an organization, we have a better working relationship with the Environmental Protection Agency than we did a decade ago. 

“In speaking with their professionals, there is an interest in seeing Pennsylvania adopt a statewide funding strategy, as opposed to punitive measures to our state. 

“Thankfully, with funding available through the American Rescue Plan, we can demonstrate to the federal government, and our neighboring Bay states, that Pennsylvania is committed to doing more for clean water.

“Pennsylvania Farm Bureau believes House Bill 1901, and the Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program, represents a great opportunity to enact a conservation funding program that embraces local control, with guaranteed funding to meet EPA's mandates. 

“This legislation will be a great support to Pennsylvania agriculture, wildlife organizations that want clean water, and our county conservation districts.”

Brenda Shambaugh, PA Association of Conservation Districts, said, “[The Agriculture Conservation Assistance Program in] HB l90l is fashioned after the PA Dirt and Gravel Roads program, allowing conservation districts to assess the proposed projects in their local area to best utilize our limited financial resources….  “getting the best bang for the buck so to speak.” 

“As such, the legislation is essentially a return on an investment to protect our valuable natural resources. Additionally, the legislation provides conservation districts with funding to administer the program and provide the technical assistance necessary for a successful program.”

“Clean water is vital to all Pennsylvanians and HB 1901 provides a mechanism to utilize federal dollars in a variety of programs. 

“Our hope is that Pennsylvania passes this legislation, but also considers future state funding opportunities to continue the programs established in HB 1901 when federal stimulus money is exhausted.”

Mike Nerozzi, Fish and Boat Commission, said, “Agricultural practices are a large contributor to NPS [nonpoint source] pollution and waterway impairment in Pennsylvania. House Bill 1901 would establish the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP) to implement BMPs to address NPS pollution on agricultural operations. 

“The program is proposed to be administered at the local level by county conservation districts, which are valuable partners of the Commission. 

“Putting these funds in the hands of local entities is a model that has proven successful in many instances, since they have a more intimate connection with the waterways and the landowners where future projects would take place.”


In response to a question from a Committee member about what the penalties are if Pennsylvania does not meet its clean water obligations, Chris Thompson, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Conservation District said--

“You can spend $250 million defending the state against the other states who wanna impose additional regulations, or you can put it on the ground. 

“From a local's perspective, the hammer is impairing the water quality. 

“If we can't fish or swim or enjoy the water in our backyard, if it impacts the farms, the community, you can't [have] community gatherings, that's the real hammer. 

“And, so part of our job is making sure everyone understands. Everyone benefits when there's clean water. 

“Everyone has a role to clean it up. 

“What we're asking for today is a little support from the state to make that a possibility.” 

Rep. Metcalfe - “Welfare”

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), retiring Republican Chair of the Committee, had a different view.

He told representatives of the PA Farm Bureau during the meeting--

“As I sat here and listened to you two gentlemen that are farmers advocating for government programs to give money to farmers to meet government mandate requirements, it made me think back to my grandfather's philosophy on government. 

“You know, "stay out of my pocket, stay off my farm and let me do what I do," so how do you not look at this as just another welfare program?”

He told representatives of county conservation districts--

“So Ronald Reagan said, "The closest thing to eternal life on earth is a government program." 

“So you three here, all recipients of money that comes to government programs and implementing government programs, so all the projects you're talking about are all government-funded projects that are being done on people's property by their neighbors, which is welfare. 

“So, you take my dollars to fund what somebody else should be paying for, that's the standard definition of welfare. 

“Investment is when you take your money and you put into something you think's going to give you a benefit. Not when you take other people's money and spend it on something else for somebody else. That's not investment. 

“So if we're going to talk about funding these programs, let's talk about the reality and let's not change the definition of words as we've been attempting to do here today. 

“It's typically a Democrat ploy to say that we have an investment of spending somebody else's tax dollars. 

[Note: Rep. Metcalfe had no problem voting for House Bill 732 in 2020 which provides up to $26 million in annual state tax credit subsidies to manufacturers who use natural gas through 2050.  In 2012, Rep. Metcalfe voted for House Bill 761 which will provide Shell with up to $1.8 billion in state tax credit subsidies through 2044 for its natural gas/ethane refinery in Beaver County.]

This has been a worthy informational hearing. There's going to be a lot of ideas on how to spend all this federal money. 

“But the reality that when you leave this room here today and you go fill your gas tank up, your reality's going to hit you like it does everybody else. 

“You're gonna be paying more at the gas pump, you're going to stores where the shelves are empty. You'll be paying more for your coffee, for your beef, for your poultry. 

“And if we allow these mandates to continue to be pushed down these people's throats and just say we're going to answer it with more government money, we can't afford it.”

Other Republican Committee members had similar views.


Chris Thompson, Executive Director of the Lancaster County Conservation District, again took the opportunity to further explain why more support for on-farm conservation measures is needed--

“This is an opportunity to invest in the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania. Even our Lancaster Amish community, they are accepting these funds because they see the value.

“Whenever I ask the farmer, "What do you want to do with your farm when you're done? When you're ready to retire?" 

“It's either-- "Pass it on to the kids”-- that's their ultimate goal-- or, "Sell it all." 

“Investing in their farm today enables the future generations to be successful. Without it, you end up with more people not connected to a farm. 

“The second is if we invest in it today, that agricultural land stays productive, and stays in farming and keeps producing the food that we all need. 

“So if your coffee costs 50 percent more today, so do all the vegetables, all the beef, everything that we eat will cost more, if the expense to meet the regulations isn't augmented in some way. 

“We can't expect the farmers to continue putting out of their pocket, out of their minimal profits, to meet the regulations.

“We really don't care about the [Chesapeake] Bay as much as we care about the health and quality of our local streams. 

“That's where the benefit is, locally. We've heard it many times through the different programs. 

“This is a local issue that you [have] a very unique opportunity as a Committee of the General Assembly to address a dire need.

“And when have you had so many organizations in favor of legislation?  Oftentimes we're at odds with each other. 

“We're coming together over one bill that I hope is a very unique opportunity that isn't welfare that is ongoing year-after-year. 

“This is an investment in the future of agriculture in Pennsylvania.”

Not Going Anywhere

Rep. Metcalfe concluded by saying, “We're not gonna afford it [in] this year's budget or next year's budget. 

“So, I think it's a worthy discussion. That's why we're having the meeting on the bill that Rep. Hershey's offering. 

“But because you've got a lot of groups advocating for this, there's gonna be a lot of groups advocating for spending all this money in some other way. 

“And, I think hopefully, legislators will get back to representing the individual citizens and ensuring that their money's not just being spent so it can drive up inflation so they can spend more at the gas pump on their way home today. 

“Thank you for being with us. Have a good day. That's all the time we have. 

“Thank you. I'll get the last word.”

Preferred Bills

The preferred bills on allocating American Rescue Plan funding are these bipartisan proposals--

-- $500 Million For Local Conservation Projects:  Senators John Gordner (R-Columbia), Bob Mensch (R-Montgomery), Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) and others have introduced bipartisan legislation proposing to allocate $500 million from the federal American Rescue Plan to fund Growing Greener watershed, farm conservation, mine reclamation and recreation projects in Senate Bill 525. A companion House bill is being introduced shortly.  Read more here.

-- Farm Conservation Cost-Share: Senate Bill 465 (Yaw-R-Lycoming, Comitta-D-Chester) establishes a new program to pay for on-farm conservation measures administered by the State Conservation Commission. Read more here.

Click Here for more information on these bills.


Click Here for a video of the hearing.  Written testimony was provided by--

-- PA Farm Bureau - David Graybill, State Board Director; Darrin Youker, Govt. Affairs; Mike Flinchbaugh, Flinchbaugh’s Orchard & Farm Market

-- PA Association of Conservation Districts

-- Fish & Boat Commission

-- Capital Region Water/ PA Municipal Authorities Association

-- Chesapeake Bay Commission

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-783-1707 or sending email to: dmetcalf@pahousegop.com. Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: gvitali@pahouse.net

[Posted: January 25, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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