Meeting The Challenge Of Keeping Pennsylvania Clean, Green And Growing
The original $650 million program remains the single largest commitment of funding in the state’s history focused on addressing Pennsylvania’s two biggest water quality problems-- abandoned mine reclamation and nonpoint source pollution from farms and stormwater, funding for water and wastewater systems, saving farmland and open space for future generations and creating more recreation opportunities throughout the state.
It was based on recommendations in the 21st Century Environment Commission Report. The Commission was created by Gov. Ridge to look into the future and identify the policy initiatives we could adopt to deal with the environmental issues we found there.
The unique aspect of the program was that it was primarily designed to support projects by watershed, community-based groups, farmers, land trusts and other locals who were not only close to the problems, but had a direct stake in the solutions.
Another landmark aspect of Act 68 was the establishment of the Environmental Good Samaritan Act that encouraged local groups with no responsibility for abandoned mine lands or orphan oil and gas wells to undertake projects to reclaim those lands and plug those wells without incurring further liability. Click Here for more.
In 2002 under Gov. Schweiker, Growing Greener funding was expanded with a dedicated $4.00/ton fee on trash allowing the state to invest a constant stream of over $50 million annually into the future to support Growing Greener’s priorities.
How committed were watershed groups and local governments to local restoration projects? For every $1 invested by the state, the groups added another $1.25 to the projects, even without a formal matching requirement.
The original Growing Greener funding also supported county watershed specialists and other technical support to build local capacity for completing local projects. The number of watershed groups expanded from 300 to 425 or more by January 2003.
The Growing Greener Program also put a premium on public education on watershed issues by creating a Watersheds.tv, a video website in 2000 to highlight projects and programs of local watershed groups, a periodic statewide newspaper insert called the GreenWorks Gazette and stories on DEP’s monthly cable TV show GreenWorks.tv showing the public examples of local efforts to improve the environment, establishing a statewide Watershed Conference and a special Governor’s Awards for Watershed Stewardship.
Citizen water quality monitoring was expanded to create a more complete baseline of water data against which to judge the effectiveness of restoration projects. By January 2003 more than 11,000 citizens and seniors were regularly engaged in water sampling and submitting their results to DEP.
In 2005 voters approved authorizing a bond issue that became a $625 million, 6-year Growing Greener II Program. It capped the original Growing Greener program by using the $4 fee to finance the bond so the annual $50+ million commitment to ongoing annual funding was gone.
The program was expanded beyond the initial focus to also include funding for energy programs, main street and downtown redevelopment, brownfields programs and projects by the Fish and Boat and Game Commissions.
A $90 million County Environmental Initiative Program was also added to fund more local projects through county governments.
Priorities changed and funding for all public education intiatives, citizen water quality monitoring and building the capacity of local groups to take on projects was cut or eliminated.
In 2010 a report by the Joint Legislative Budget and Finance Committee confirmed all of the $625 million in Growing Greener II bond funds were already spent with no replacement funding source in sight.
Among the projects funded by Growing Greener II, the report noted, was a parking garage in Scranton. Really? Is that “Growing Greener?”
In 2012, the General Assembly passed the Act 13 drilling impact fee which transferred a portion of the fee revenue-- currently $20 million (it was initially $35 million)-- to DCNR’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund to be re-transferred to the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund.
And that’s where the program stands today.
Since 1999, the original provisions of Growing Greener have funded hundreds of local parks and trail projects, conserved more than 80,000 acres of threatened open space, and restored hundreds of miles of streams and waterways.
The program has also protected more than 78,000 acres of farmland, restored more than 1,600 acres of abandoned mine land, and helped reduce flooding and water pollution through 400 watershed protection projects and more than 100 drinking and wastewater treatment improvements. Click Here for more.
The economic benefits of the kinds of investments made by the original Growing Greener Program have been quantified a number of different ways over the last few years.
As a result of the original Growing Greener and the Keystone Fund investments, the economic benefits of investments in recreation facilities are estimated to be $1 billion annually supporting 13,000 jobs across the state For every dollar invested in State Parks and Forests, $12 of value added income is generated.
Investments in Pennsylvania’s 6,000 local parks generate $1.6 billion in annual economic activity.
The economic and other benefits of open space, trails and other green infrastructure have also been well document over the past few years.
Green Infrastructure Investment Returns
Recent studies done on the county level show the annual environmental and economic value from the services provided by natural resources and investments in conservation, farmland preservation, watershed restoration and more is in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Here are studies from just three counties that add up to over $2.4 billion in annual environmental and economic benefits.
A study done in Lancaster County- Beyond Food: The Environmental Benefits of Agriculture In Lancaster County-- identifies quantifiable benefits such as providing water, pollination, recreation, tourism and flood protection, soil and trees that absorb carbon dioxide.
Their total value-- without counting the value of agricultural products themselves-- $676 million annually in Lancaster County alone.
A similar study for Dauphin County found the return on investment in protection and restoring natural resources provided a $939.2 million annual investment return.
Another study of the value of natural resources and open space in Carbon County found the return on investment was estimated to be $800 million annually.
Since the original Growing Greener Program was created in 1999, there has been a 75 percent reduction in its funding for the original focus areas of the program-- water quality improvement (mine reclamation, nonpoint source pollution), land conservation, recreation, water and wastewater infrastructure.
At the same time, the original challenges in environmental restoration are still there and growing.
Take one area as an example-- water quality impairment--
-- Polluted Streams: 19,900 miles of Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams are polluted and do not meet federal water quality standards primarily due to abandoned mine drainage, agricultural and stormwater runoff, Click Here for more;
-- Chesapeake Bay Obligations: $326.9 million is estimated (so far) to be needed to meet the specific Chesapeake Bay agriculture nutrient and sediment reduction obligations covering half of Pennsylvania, Click Here for more;
-- Abandoned Mine Lands: 250,000 acres of abandoned mine lands remain polluting 5,500 miles of streams, Click Here for more.
-- Drinking Water: Pennsylvania has $10.2 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs (2015), Click Here for more; and
-- Wastewater: $8.4 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs (2015), Click Here for more.
The Future Is Green... Infrastructure
Communities and the state have started to rely more and more on green infrastructure for cheaper, more effective ways to deal with critical water pollution and flooding problems faced by the Commonwealth.
Green infrastructure includes forest buffers, stormwater infiltration areas, porous pavement, parks and recreation areas, passive mine drainage treatment, stream restoration, preserved land and more.
Green infrastructure also provides multiple benefits for a single investment like reductions in flooding, water pollution, providing recreation, wildlife habitat and they make quantifiable economic contributions to the community.
And once installed, green infrastructure like forest buffers, infiltration areas and rain gardens become more effective because they are living, growing practices, not cement and cinder block structures.
Philadelphia, Lancaster, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, as well as Lycoming, Monroe and York counties and groups of communities like in the Wyoming Valley have already turned to green infrastructure with its multiple benefits to meet water quality goals with a single investment.
Pennsylvania’s initiative to develop the state’s Phase III Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan covering half the state is focused on developing county by county list of green infrastructure policies and practices needed to fulfill the state’s obligations.
Using 30 years of experience with best management practices and water monitoring information, this data-driven effort is identifying the most cost effective solutions with the most benefits for every dollar invested.
Last September, Matt Johnston of the University of Maryland Chesapeake Bay Program and Dr. Emily Trentacoste of the U.S. Geological Survey presented the Phase III Steering Committee with the list of the top 11 most cost effective practices to reduce nitrogen going to the Chesapeake Bay based on all this experience and data (page 73 of his presentation).
The practices include alternative crops on farmland at $1/pound of nitrogen reduced to exclusion fencing with grass buffers at $6/pound.
In between are-- less expensive to more-- water quality conservation plans, grass buffers on row crops, barnyard runoff control, water control structures, wetland restoration, forest buffers on row crops ($2/pound), narrow buffers on row crops, narrow forest buffers on row crops and nutrient management on the land.
A Funding Workgroup for the Phase III effort is also looking at creative ways to stretch or redirect existing funding or provide creative new funding options to support water quality restoration initiatives.
There are many proven ideas for increasing funding for much needed green infrastructure. Here are just a few--
-- Increase/Broaden REAP Farm Conservation Tax Credit: In 2007 the Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) Farm Conservation Tax Credit Program was established to provide tax credits to farmers who use their own money to install best management practices.
Each year this program is oversubscribed with many more eligible requests for the $10 million annual appropriation than can be granted.
This public-private initiative could easily be expanded in terms of dollars and to allow other third-party tax paying companies and individuals to fund on-farm conservation practices just like another successful initiative-- the Education Improvement Tax Credit Program.
Private taxpayers would use their money to fund the practices and in return they receive a public tax credit benefit; a true public-private partnership.
-- Institute A Pay-For-Success Public/Private Investment Program: The Pay-For-Success model for installing farm conservation practices allows municipalities to satisfy stormwater pollution reduction requirements and returns profits to private capital investors who pay for those practices.
Recently, the National Resources Conservation Service awarded a Conservation Innovation Grant to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA to develop a pilot Pay-For-Success Program.
A second NRCS grant funded a pay-for-success project in the Brandywine-Christiana Watershed that straddles the Pennsylvania-Delaware border.
This kind of program has the potential to bring millions of private dollars to Pennsylvania to pay for farm conservation practices. (Click Here for more.)
-- Encourage BMP Construction In Local Development: Thousands of new developments go in every year all across Pennsylvania. Encouraging those developments to incorporate stormwater BMPs to reduce nutrient and sediment loads seems like a no-brainer.
The American Water Resources Association recently highlighted the Rock Lititz Floodplain Restoration Project in Lancaster County as an innovative private-public partnership to reduce sediment and nutrient loads going to the Chesapeake Bay without using any taxpayer money.
LandStudies, Inc. describes how the world-famous entertainment technology company Clair Global planned its new 93.3 acre Rock Lititz campus in Warwick Township, Lancaster County to house 13 companies supporting live entertainment production.
Over 3,100 feet of Santo Domingo Creek runs through the site and offered an opportunity to maximize land area for development, reduce long-term site costs and employ best management practices to permanently reduce flooding and water pollution coming from the site.
Rock Lititz committed an estimated $755,000 for the floodplain restoration initiative because they recognized the environmental, community and economic benefits of using the floodplain restoration technique. (Click Here for more.)
Expediting DEP permits for these multi-benefit projects for local governments could also encourage local green infrastructure in new development.
-- Double-Down On Recreation Investments By Incorporating Stormwater BMPs: Communities all across the state are realizing local and regional parks and recreation facilities can be fully integrated into helping those communities comply with MS4 stormwater pollution reduction requirements.
Parkland is often viewed as leftover land, land with environmental constraints such as wetlands, floodplains, and steep slopes, or land a developer did not want or could not develop. Parks. This underutilized open space offers settings that could help to address stormwater pollution reduction challenges.
Instead of single-purpose solutions that may address one aspect of the environmental challenges we face, solutions that consider all of a municipality’s assets, including parks and underutilized lands, may yield multiple benefits in stormwater management and reduced flooding.
The very recent severe stream flooding Pennsylvania has experienced is a great example of the kind of benefits green infrastructure can provide in reducing flooding. Examples of its effectiveness can be found in Lancaster County. Click Here for more.
In fact, both the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and EPA have step-by-step guides and other resources to help communities realize these benefits. (Click Here for more.)
Again, expediting permits, changing grant award criteria to encourage multiple benefit projects, could encourage more of these projects to better use the scarce resources we now have.
-- Chesapeake Bay, Mine Reclamation And Other Water Quality Success Depends On A Fully Participating Federal Partner: The success of the Chesapeake Bay Program and water infrastructure investment programs in Pennsylvania depend significantly on a fully participating federal partner.
Whether its agriculture and forest conservation programs in the federal Farm Bill, reauthorization of the federal abandoned mine reclamation fee or fully funding the Clean Water and Drinking Water Revolving Loan Funds, Safe Drinking Water and other programs, federal participation in successful, multi-benefit water quality restoration initiatives is critical.
To support this and other clean water green infrastructure efforts, the bipartisan Pennsylvania members of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission have already spotlighted the need for a Clean Water Fund in Pennsylvania to help accomplish many of these goals statewide.
Public polls consistently show strong, consistent, and bipartisan public support for programs that improve our quality of life, boost the economy, and protect the environment throughout Pennsylvania.
A Penn State poll found more than 90.7 percent of Pennsylvanians surveyed support increasing state funds dedicated to protecting rivers and streams; conserving open space, forests, natural areas and wildlife habitats; providing parks and trails; and preserving farmland.
Refocused funding efforts at the state level on what we really need, not want we want, with more local control to emphasize green infrastructure investments and a demand projects achieve multiple benefits from a single investment would get the biggest bang for the taxpayer’s buck.
Green infrastructure investments also need to be targeted to areas on the landscape where they will do the most good, particularly for water quality improvements, further increasing their effectiveness. We have the data, let’s use it.
Continuing to disperse scarce state resources on dozens of different, single purpose programs that will collectively have little real impact just doesn’t seem smart with today’s fiscal realities.
It will take a combination of tools to achieve our green infrastructure objectives and restore the hope created when the original Growing Greener Program was passed in 1999.
(Written By: David Hess, Former Secretary Of PA Department of Environmental Protection.)
How You Can Help
Other Environmental Policy Challenges
[Posted: August 9, 2018]
|Go To Preceding Article Go To Next Article|