Analysis: Will PA Show Leadership On Water Cleanup Issues, Or Surrender To Feds?
Pennsylvania hasn’t had a sustained, serious effort to address its nearly 20,000 miles of polluted streams and rivers in the last 12 years.
Sure, there have been initiatives in fits and starts like the Growing Greener II bond issue, but that was limited in time and money and also capped the original Growing Greener Program meant to address Pennsylvania’s most significant water quality issues, in particular, nonpoint source pollution.
The Act 13 drilling impact fees did provide some money, but merely restored just a small portion of the funding to address water quality issues cut in previous budgets and capped with the Growing Greener II bond issue.
Pennsylvania has 565 days (as of June 15) to put the best management practices on the ground needed to eliminate 10 million pounds of nitrogen and 212 million pounds of sediment from going into our rivers and streams to meet the 2017 Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestones.
Pennsylvania is even further behind because we did not meet the 2013 pollution reduction milestones.
Last June, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported Pennsylvania exceeded its 2013 Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestone for phosphorus by 242,000 pounds, but fell short in meeting the nitrogen goal by 2 million pounds and sediment reduction milestone by nearly 116 million pounds.
If Pennsylvania doesn’t meet the milestones, it leaves EPA free to come up with its own plan on how the state can meet them, and as Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming) said during DEP’s budget hearing, “It isn’t pretty.”
The question comes down to whether the General Assembly and Gov. Wolf want to yield this responsibility to the federal government.
But there’s another clock ticking, this one for the state budget.
June 30 is the deadline for a new budget and if it does not include resources to address Pennsylvania’s critical water quality cleanup needs, we will have to wait an entire year until they can be addressed.
What will it take to meet the 2017 milestones? A coherent plan and more resources.
We know DEP Secretary John Quigley and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding (now confirmed by the Senate) have been working on a plan to meet the milestones.
They’ve been actively talking to stakeholders, evaluating the programs now in place and working with their staffs on a plan.
We hope they produce an outline soon.
Using the Commonwealth’s reported average rate of Chesapeake Bay Program implementation from 2009 to 2013, here’s an estimate of how much each of key measures would have to increase to meet the 2017 milestones:
— Forested stream buffers on farms: from 6 acres per day to over 38 acres;
— Farm conservation plan development: from 46 acres a day to over 589 acres;
— Rotational grazing practices: from 8.5 acres to roughly 135 acres a day;
— Urban stormwater infiltration practices: from 7 acres to 368 acres per day;
— Stormwater treatment wet ponds & wetlands: from 0.4 acres to 28 acres a day; and
— Dirt & gravel road repair: from 334 feet per day to over 1,411 feet per day.
Agriculture, Pennsylvania’s number one source of nutrient and sediment pollution, needs significant help getting conservation practices on the ground. The reduction in funding and design help supported by state resources over the last 12 years has put them far behind.
And farmers are actively seeking technical and financial help with these practices in large numbers. Amazingly, 75 percent of those that ask for help cannot get it from county, state or federal agencies.
Addressing these issues is tall order, but if we do nothing, as the current discussions over the state budget and natural gas severance tax indicate, we have no chance of meeting the milestones. Not even close.
Another danger we face is getting sidetracked by make-believe solutions to nutrient reductions like Senate Bill 724 (Vogel-R-Beaver).
What we need is leadership.
If we don’t get that leadership, and surrender this issue to the federal government, not only will Pennsylvania’s environment suffer, but our farmers, builders, local governments and wastewater plant ratepayers will too if EPA gets to put in place its “backstop” plans to meet our cleanup milestones.
So what’s it going to be?
Resources: How Clean Is Your Local Stream?
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