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

On July 1, 1997, Gov. Tom Ridge signed an executive order creating the 21st Century Environment Commission.  Its job was to help Pennsylvania set environmental priorities and explore new methods of achieving its environmental goals in the next century.

Co-chaired by Caren Glotfelty, then Maurice K. Goddard Chair at Penn State University, and DEP Secretary Jim Seif, the Commission was made up of 40 diverse members, including representatives of business, nonprofits, local governments, industry, academic, political and agencies.

In his remarks at the first meeting of the Commission, Gov. Ridge said, “At the end of the day, I would like for Pennsylvania to be a leader among the states when it comes to not just preservation, but the enhancement of this extraordinary natural legacy that we have inherited as residents of this state.”  Click Here for more.

 As part of the Commission’s deliberations, it held 16 regional roundtable discussions across the state and 11 open houses on the draft version of the report to involve the public, local officials and many others in the effort.

In September 1998, the members of the Commission delivered a report to Gov. Ridge containing 240 recommendations “to improve the environment, economy and community in Pennsylvania.”

In addition to recommendations on promoting responsible land use, conserving natural resources for sustainable use, developing a new foundation for teamwork, promoting environmental education, training and stewardship and having government lead by example, the Commission addressed the challenges of making a healthy environment for people, including the need to improve water quality.

They identified agricultural and stormwater runoff as key threats, along with acid mine drainage pollution of streams and recommended additional funding and other initiatives to address these issues.

“Our broad goal for the next century is to see comprehensive, community-based watershed management strategies as the driver of water quality, quantity and habitat decisions. To do this the state needs to provide technical and financial assistance to local watershed partnerships.”

The 240 recommendations made by 21st Century Environment Commission remain the most comprehensive ever done to address environmental protection, land use and environmental health issues in Pennsylvania based on extensive public involvement and a diverse set of Commission members. 

Many of those recommendations have yet to be acted on because time ran out for the Ridge and Schweiker Administrations.

Growing Greener

Based on the strong policy foundation laid down by the Governor’s 21st Century Environment Commission, Gov. Ridge announced a $1.3 billion Growing Greener Initiative as a centerpiece of his FY 1999-2000 budget proposal in January of 1999.  Click Here for more.

“In one week, I will propose the most sweeping change in environmental budget policy in the last 30 years,” Gov. Ridge said.  “It will send Pennsylvania down the path of ‘growing greener’ in the 21st century.  We will dramatically restructure $1.3 billion in existing funding over the next five years to improve Pennsylvania’s environment for the 21st century.  We’ll use that money to focus like never before on cleaner water, better parks, preserving open space and controlling sprawl.”

The Environmental Stewardship Fund would annually provide: 

-- $95 million - Public Lands Stewardship:  Funding sewer, water, road, bridge, and dam-repair and improvement projects in State Parks and Forests through DCNR.  These funds will complete the outstanding backlog of maintenance and infrastructure-improvement projects at Pennsylvania state parks.

-- $50 million - Community Conservation:  Providing grants to municipalities, authorities and conservation organizations to support local park, greenway, bike and rail-trail, streamside buffer, farmland and open-space preservation projects through DCNR.

-- $160 million - Abandoned Mine/Well Reclamation:  Providing grants for reclamation projects by county conservation districts, watershed organizations, authorities and the Senior Environment Corps, and supporting state projects to reclaim mine lands, and plug oil and gas wells.

-- $95 million - Watershed Restoration: Providing grants to support local projects to clean up nonpoint sources of pollution through DEP and to create a new program in PennVEST to fund nonpoint source pollution control projects.

-- $25 million - Sewer/Water Incentives: Providing additional grants through PennVEST to authorities and municipalities as an incentive to communities to develop infrastructure projects that support sound land-use planning and help economically disadvantaged communities.

The proposed Growing Greener Program reprioritizes the way environmental funds are spent by: 1) redirecting $425 million over five years to the new Environmental Stewardship Fund to emphasize clean water and sound land-use planning; 2) redirecting an additional $44 million one-time-only appropriation from unused Landfill Closure Accounts for land use planning, watershed protection, farmland preservation and open space; and 3) restructuring the PennVEST program – which is scheduled to give out $900 million over the next five years – to use that $180 million a year to better promote sound land-use practices across Pennsylvania.

The Environmental Stewardship Fund created as part of the proposal would be supported by $85 million a year for five years.  The money will come from the Act 339 Sewage Facility Operating Grants from the General Fund, and excess funds in the Act 108 Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund and the Act 101 Recycling Fund.

Budget Conditions In 1999

Budgeting in 1999 was much different than it is today because the economy was doing very well, state revenues were very robust and the Recycling and Hazardous Sites Cleanup funds were running significant surpluses far beyond what was needed to sustain the programs.

In fact, when Gov. Ridge signed the FY 1999-2000 state budget into law in May of 1999 (yes May), the Governor and Republican-controlled Senate and House were able to cut taxes for individual taxpayers by $400 million, eliminated or reduced other state taxes and ended up with a balance of $1 billion in the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Growing Greener Introduced

The “Watershed Protection and Environmental Stewardship Act,” drafted by the departments of Environmental Protection and Conservation and Natural Resources and the Governor’s Office, recognized a fundamental change in the water quality threats faced by Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams-- “96 percent of the water quality impaired watersheds in the state were impaired because of nonpoint sources of pollution such as past mining activities, urban and agricultural runoff, atmospheric deposition, onlot sewage systems and earthmoving and timber harvesting activities.”

No longer was pollution coming from the end of a pipe the major cause of impairment because of the significant investments made to upgrade wastewater treatment systems, both public sewers and industrial plants.

The proposal shifted funding priorities from the state to support communities, county conservation districts, watershed groups and authorities across the state.

In April, just after Earth Day, bipartisan legislation-- Senate Bill 800-- was introduced by Senators Mary Jo White (R-Venango) and Ray Musto (D-Luzerne), the Majority and Minority Chairs of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and others.

At the same time, House Bill 1200 was introduced by Rep. Art Hershey (R-Chester), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Rep. Robert Freeman (D-Lehigh) and many others.

By June 1999, a diverse roster of 78 environmental, business, local government, recreation, wildlife, citizens, land trust, individuals and newspapers were supporting the Growing Greener legislation.

Hearings were held, bills were moving, but with the signing of the state budget in May of 1999-- one of the earliest ever-- time ran out for completing work on the Growing Greener legislation before the summer break.

The FY 1999-2000 budget did create the Environmental Stewardship Fund and included a downpayment of $8.7 million for the Fund, but none of the funding could be used until implementing legislation was passed.

The budget also increased funding for conservation districts by $2.1 million and funded other recommended environmental initiatives.

Work continued on the Growing Greener implementing legislation through the summer and into the fall.

New $500 Million Proposal

In October 1999, Gov. Ridge decided he needed to reinvigorate the Growing Greener discussions by announcing a new five year, $500 million plan to address the same priorities with a “pay-as-you-go” model, not a “borrow-now-pay-later” scheme some in the General Assembly were advocating at the time.  Click Here for more.

Over five years, the revised Growing Greener proposal would provide communities:

-- $200 million to clean up abandoned mines and restore watersheds;

-- $175 million for local open space and recreation grants and to eliminate the maintenance backlog in State Parks; and

-- $125 million for new and upgraded water and sewer systems.

Gov. Ridge announced the new proposal in his monthly radio address saying--

“Under our plan, every corner of Pennsylvania will have the opportunity to ‘grow greener’ based on local priorities and local problems – a key idea in the 21st Century Environment Commission’s report. 

“The General Assembly made a down payment on ‘Growing Greener’ in this year’s budget by putting nearly $9 million in a newly created Environmental Stewardship Fund.  That was just a modest down payment.

“But our work is not done.  So let’s finish the job.  Time is short.  The new century is almost here.

“Our Constitution gives Pennsylvania’s citizens the right to clean air, to pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.  This is a right Pennsylvanians take very seriously.  And we should 

“Unfortunately, most of our efforts to protect our environment are three decades old.  That’s why I am asking you to help me convince our legislators to change that – to make an unprecedented new investment in our environment and to focus that investment on today’s environmental priorities – and tomorrow’s.

“As stewards of Penn’s Woods, we are responsible for lands – mountains, waters and forests – that are among the greatest natural bounty on the face of this Earth.  We have not inherited these lands from our parents – we have borrowed these lands from our children.  ‘Growing Greener’ invests in their future.

“I urge the General Assembly to ensure that future, by growing Pennsylvania greener.”

Going into December the legislation still wasn’t finished.

At a November 30 ceremony recognizing the winners of the Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards, Gov. Ridge said in a live webcast of the event, “The 44 Environmental Excellence Award winners we honor have shown environmental leadership and a willingness to work to preserve ‘Penn’s Woods’ for our children.  That’s why I again call on the General Assembly to pass “Growing Greener” now – let’s not wait another day!”

“We’re all stewards of ‘Penn’s Woods’ – mountains, waters and forests – that are among the greatest natural bounty on the face of this Earth,” Gov. Ridge said.  “We have not inherited these lands from our parents – we have borrowed these lands from our children.  ‘Growing Greener’ invests in their future.”

Gov. Ridge said passing “Growing Greener” in the next few weeks will ensure Pennsylvania’s leadership in protecting its environment in the next century which begins on January 1.  Click Here for more.

On December 7, House Bill 868 (Sam Smith-R-Jefferson (later House Speaker) & Tom Tangretti (D-Westmoreland)-- establishing the Good Samaritan Program to encourage the cleanup of abandoned mine lands and discharges and other environmental insults (another innovative program developed by DEP at the time) was amended in the Senate to include the “Environmental Stewardship and Watershed Protection Act” -- Growing Greener.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 49 to 1.

The House concurred in the bill on December 8 by a vote of 166 to 28.

Gov. Ridge signed it into law on December 15, 1999 as Act 68.

$645 Million Final Program

When the legislation passed, Gov. Ridge said, “This legislation will have a sweeping positive impact for so many Pennsylvanians – both today’s and tomorrow’s. The real beneficiaries of ‘Growing Greener’ are our children and their children. Because of this vote today, our children will enjoy cleaner waterways; our pristine farmlands will be preserved; the best state parks in the country will be even better; we’ll add to our already impressive number of recreational trails; and we’ll honor our proud industrial heritage by reclaiming abandoned mines.” Click Here for more.

“Growing Greener” will spend $645.9 million over five years, $105.9 million the first year and $135 million a year for the next four.

It will come from about $473.4 million in new money from the General Fund and $172.5 million in funds redirected from the Recycling and Hazardous Sites Cleanup funds and the Landfill Closure Accounts.

On December 15, Gov. Ridge not only signed House Bill 868 and Growing Greener into law, he announced the first grants made under the program.  Click Here for more.

Gov. Ridge signed the bill on a hill overlooking Cedar Hollow in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County – 60 acres of undeveloped land in one of Pennsylvania’s busiest commercial corridors that now will be protected as open space through a $100,000 Land Trust Grant to the Open Land Conservancy of Chester County. 

Also on the land is an “exceptional value” trout stream that will be enhanced through a $75,000 watershed grant enabled by Growing Greener.

“Today, I sign a law that will make the largest environmental investment in modern Pennsylvania history – nearly $650 million!” Gov. Ridge said.  “‘Growing Greener’ was my top priority this fall — and, standing here, it’s easy to see why.

“‘Growing Greener’ is about preserving open space – protecting our lands and waters for fishing, hiking and farming.  For all of us and for our children.

“It’s about slashing the state’s backlog of farmland-preservation projects.  It’s about making the best state parks in the country even better and creating even more recreational trails.  And it’s about honoring our proud industrial heritage by reclaiming abandoned mines. 

“Our Constitution gives Pennsylvanians the right to clean air, to pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.  We have a constitutional obligation to leave ‘Penn’s Woods’ better than we found them – and today we act decisively to fulfill it.”

“The vista we’re enjoying today represents what ‘Growing Greener’ will do statewide,” Gov. Ridge said.  “We’re in one of the fastest growing areas of the state, 20 miles from Philadelphia, six miles from King of Prussia, one-half mile from corporate centers and subdivisions. 

“Without ‘Growing Greener,’ development might have gobbled up this land.  Instead, thanks to ‘Growing Greener,’ Pennsylvanians will have trails for hiking and cross-country skiing with their families; a clean, clear stream for trout fishing; and pristine woods and fields to experience just as the first settlers did. 

“We fought for ‘Growing Greener’ because we must protect these special open areas today, or they will be lost tomorrow.  And once developed, they are gone forever.”

Gov. Ridge thanked the many members of the General Assembly who helped enact his No. 1 legislative priority, particularly: Rep. Art Hershey (R-Chester); Rep. David Argall (R-Schuylkill); the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sam Smith (R-Jefferson); Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango); Sen. Raphael Musto (D-Luzerne); and Senate Minority Leader Robert Mellow (D-Lackawanna).

100 Days Of Growing Greener

DEP was ready to implement the Growing Greener Program before the echoes of the final votes made in the Senate and House faded--

-- The December 24 DEP Update newsletter announced the first applications would be accepted January 4 and a series of 12, later 13, grant workshops were announced across the state during January;

-- At the Farm Show in the beginning of January, Gov. Ridge announced “100 Days Of Growing Greener”-- from the Farm Show to Earth Day-- and the announcement of his intent to preserve 100 farms in 100 days.

--January 14 DEP Update continued the 100 days with Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker announcing $5.1 million in Growing Greener grants for watershed protection and abandoned mine reclamation projects in 45 counties from a backlog of applications;

--January 21 DEP Update included the announcement of $6 million in grants to protect open space by Gov. Ridge and that applications were being accepted for conservation district watershed specialist grants;

--January 28 DEP Update announced Gov. Ridge had signed a $210 million agreement with USDA to protect Pennsylvania watersheds, preserve up to 100,000 acres of farmland and improve wildlife habitat in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with matching funds provided by Growing Greener and other state programs;

-- February 4 DEP Update announced 1,500 Growing Greener applications had been downloaded from DEP’s website and 1,300 people attended the grant writing workshops- the deadline for applications in the first open Growing Greener Grant round was February 11;

-- February 11 DEP Update announced Gov. Ridge would allocate $135 million to implement the second year of the Growing Greener Program in his FY 2000-01 budget proposal;

-- February 18 DEP Update announced a new Growing Greener website to serve as a one-stop-shop for information on the program;

-- February 25 DEP Update included Lt. Gov. Schweiker announcing the preservation of more than 4,500 acres of farmland on 32 farms as a result of Growing Greener;

-- March 3 DEP Update announced a $1 million Growing Greener grant to the City of Pittsburgh for the North Shore Riverfront Park;

-- March 10 DEP Update included Lt. Gov. Schweiker announcing $3.7 million in Growing Greener watershed protection grants;

-- March 17 DEP Update included Gov. Ridge announcing $15 million in Growing Greener Grants for parks and open space projects;

-- March 24 DEP Update announced $12.4 million in PennVEST grants for drinking water, wastewater and stormwater projects funded by Growing Greener;

-- March 31 DEP Update included Gov. Ridge announcing the preservation of nearly 4,100 more acres of land on 35 farms with the help of Growing Greener;

-- April 7 DEP Update announces first mine reclamation project funded by Growing Greener;

-- April 14 DEP Update included Gov. Ridge announcing DCNR Rivers Conservation and Wild Resource Conservation grants supported and expanded by Growing Greener;

-- April 21 DEP Update kicked off the celebration of Earth Day 2000 with the announcement by Gov. Ridge of nearly $26 million in DEP grants to more than 200 local governments and organizations for watershed restoration and abandoned mine reclamation projects.  This investment attracted an additional $45 million in matching funds.

At a minimum, this first round of DEP Growing Greener Watershed Grants projects would--

-- Reclaim 795 acres of abandoned mine land;

-- Improve 279 miles of streams impacted by acid mine drainage;

-- Restore or construct 3,603 acres of wetlands;

-- Plant 117 miles of riparian stream buffers;

-- Improve 43 miles of stream bank/aquatic habitat;

-- Support 85 restoration plans or new green technology demonstrations;

-- Support 55 watershed assessments or protection plans;

-- Help organize or expand 21 new or existing watershed groups;

-- Develop and Implement 58 environmental education projects; and

-- Plug 50 abandoned oil and gas wells.

In addition, Gov. Ridge said-- “We saved 100 farms from development –- about 12,400 acres of open space.  We kicked off a $125 million effort to make our nation’s best state parks even better.  We invested $15 million in community, recreation and conservation.  And we’re helping communities grow smarter as well as greener.  But today does not mark an end to our crusade –- but the beginning. 

“If we can accomplish this much in 100 days, just think what we’ll be able to do together over the next five years!”

-- April 28 DEP Update included an announcement by Lt. Gov. Schweiker of grants to support 45 new county conservation district watershed coordinators.

In September of 2000, DEP worked with the GreenTreks Network to create Watersheds.TV, an online video website and the Watershed  Weekly, an online newsletter by the PA Organization for Watersheds and Rivers to share inspiring stories of how local groups used Growing Greener funding, local partners and their own sweat equity to make their watersheds better.

These tools were in addition to DEP's weekly UPDATE newsletter that reached over 20,000 people, and support for a monthly GreenWorks For PA cable TV show and video website, a companion GreenWorks Radio program and periodic GreenWorks Gazette Sunday newspaper inserts distributed across the state by the nonprofit Environmental Fund for Pennsylvania that also promoted positive stories about people, local governments and businesses doing great things to improve the environment.

In October of 2000, 325 people attended the first Pennsylvania Watershed Restoration and Protection Conference where a new Governor’s Award for Watershed Stewardship was announced. Click Here for more.

On December 1, 2000, Gov. Ridge announced the second round of Growing Greener grants totalling $42 million for 328 projects in all 67 counties for watershed restoration, cleaning up abandoned mine pollution and plugging abandoned oil and gas wells.  Click Here for more.

In his FY 2001-02 budget proposal in February of 2001, Gov. Ridge proposed nearly $140 million in Growing Greener funding to implement the third year of the program.  Click Here for more.

In April of 2001, DEP Secretary Jim Seif, the architect of the Governor’s 21st Century Commission, the Growing Greener Program, the Land Recycling initiative and other early successes in the Ridge Administration, left DEP for the private sector.

David Hess, who served as DEP Executive Secretary, was nominated by Gov. Ridge and confirmed by the Senate to follow Jim Seif as DEP Secretary.

One of the things Hess did as Secretary was travel the state to highlight dozens of local Growing Greener Projects, businesses saving money by saving energy, reducing waste, saving water and preventing pollution and other positive environmental initiatives by farmers, local governments and many others.

This travel resulted in Hess visiting each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties two times to highlight projects and he was nearly through a third round when the Schweiker Administration ended in January of 2003.

In addition to implementation of Growing Greener, during April and May of 2001, four state agencies, including the departments of Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and the Fish and Boat Commission invited citizens from across the state to attend special Water Forums on water resource, water quantity issues titled “Water - Is Our Future Draining Away?”

The forums will outline basic water resource challenges and opportunities,  both locally and statewide. They will also help to raise awareness while gathering citizens thoughts on water resource issues in Pennsylvania.

In addition to the public forums, DEP has created a webpage with a wealth of related water information that will include a running summary of issues raised at the forums, links to upcoming events, videos and publications, news clips from  around the state on water and a message board where people can discuss water issues online.

A new publication, Water is Life, raised provocative questions about water in a collection of essays by a variety of authors will be available at the Forums and online.  Click Here for the first installment in Water is Life (page 23).

Doing more to protect Pennsylvania water resources was another recommendation included in the Governor’s 21st Century Environment Commission report.   Click Here for more.

In August 2001, the Growing Greener Watershed Protection and Restoration initiatives won a national Council of State Government Innovations Award. Click Here for more.

That same year Gov. Ridge was named Conservationist of the Year by the PA Wildlife Federation and the Pennsylvania Audubon Society based on the Growing Greener Program initiative.

Later, DEP was also recognized with the 2002 Sponsor of the Year Award from Ducks Unlimited as a result of the Growing Greener Program.   In 2003 the Growing Greener Program received the  Karl Mason Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Environmental Professionals.

In June 2001, the inaugural winners of the Governor’s Watershed Stewardship Awards were announced-- 25 organizations and individuals from 17 counties-- supported by the Growing Greener Program.  Click Here for more.

“I’ve seen their work first hand-- I’ve pulled tires out of the Mahanoy Creek with Ed Wytovich; toured treatment ponds with Margaret Dunn; worked with John Dawes on stretching Growing Greener dollars; visited the Stroud-Chesapeake Bay Foundation research farm in Lancaster County; and did a Mothers Day cleanup along the Lehigh River with Wildlands Conservancy, Hess said. These are Pennsylvania’s new environmental heroes.

In August of 2001, DEP launched the Environmental Futures Initiative, a watershed-based planning process to document 17 indicators of environmental conditions in 34 watersheds across the state as a way to begin to measure progress toward improving the environment.

This was another recommendation included in the report of the Governor’s 21st Century Environment Commission.  Click Here for more.

Sept. 11 Challenge

The September 11 attacks, including the crash of Flight 93 in Somerset County, not only shocked the nation, but the economic downturn after that horrible day had a significant impact on the state’s economy and state tax revenues.  Click Here for more on September 11.

There was also a change in leadership in Pennsylvania.  Gov. Ridge was named the first Director of the Office of Homeland Security by President Bush and Lt. Gov. Mark Schweiker became Governor on October 5.

Since Gov. Schweiker had been a real partner with Gov. Ridge, he was able to take over the responsibilities as Governor seamlessly.

In October, in response to the economic downturn, Gov. Ridge froze $200 million in funding, including nearly $11 million in DEP’s budget-- but no grant funds.  At that point, the state Rainy Day fund still had nearly $1.1 billion in it.

On December 13, the Department of Environmental Protection outlined the Schweiker Administration’s new water resources initiative designed to inventory and protect Pennsylvania’s water resources from overuse, as a follow-up to the recommendations made by 1,700 people who attended 15 Water Forums held across the state in April and May.  Click Here for more.

The proposal, announced at the first-ever Water Conservation Congress, was included in Senate Bill 1230 (Gerlach-R-Chester) and House Bill 2230 (Hershey-R-Chester) and would--

-- Update the State Water Plan & Collect Water Use Data;

-- Identify Critical Water Planning Areas & Promote Integrated Water Resources Plans;

-- Create a Water Conservation Program; and

-- Set Construction Standards for Private Water Wells.

The time to act on this issue is long overdue, Hess said. As we gather at this Congress today, 62 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are under a drought declaration. And in four of the last six years, drought conditions have reached emergency levels. Like a good financial planner, Pennsylvania needs to take stock of its water resources, develop a water budget and plan for the future.

Gov. Schweiker's Growing Greener Watershed Protection Program actively promotes restoration of water quality, watershed by watershed. Now we need to takeGrowing Greener one step further and promote watershed-wide, multi-municipal solutions to address water- quantity concerns by involving local stakeholders, promoting partnerships and providing education.

In January 2002, Gov. Schweiker froze an additional $148 million in state spending in response to the downturn, including $50 million from the Environmental Stewardship “Growing Greener” Fund.  Click Here for more.

“I want to assure our many Growing Greener partners that today’s action will in no way immpact our existing commitments to fund Growing Greener projects throughout the state,” said Gov. Schweiker. “Further, we will not reduce by a single dime the funds we provide for local watershed cleanups and restoration.”

The Governor was able to say that because the Department of Environmental Protection, working with the Governor’s Budget Office, made administrative changes to the program to provide for grant payouts over a longer time, reducing the yearly draw on the Environmental Stewardship Fund.

In an Open Letter To Growing Greener Partners in the January 18, 2002 DEP Update, Secretary Hess explained the changes.

In February 2002, Gov. Schweiker’s proposed budget included $87 million in funding to implement the fourth year of the Growing Greener Program, reflecting the changes made to respond to the September 11 economic downturn.  Click Here for more.

At the same time, Republican candidate for Governor Mike Fisher made a commitment to find a reliable funding source for the Growing Greener Program, suggesting the $2 per ton Recycling Fee be increased by another $2 per ton to support Growing Greener.  Click Here for more.

“Growing Greener isn’t just a concept or a name,” said former Senator and Attorney General Fisher.  “It is a plan to preserve farmland, protect open space, eliminate maintenance backlogs at our state parks, clean abandoned mines and restore watersheds, fund recreational trails and local parks and upgrade our water and sewer systems.”

Joining Fisher in a show of support for dedicated funding for Growing Greener were representatives of 30 local, regional and statewide environmental groups.  Click Here for more.

In the General Assembly, Rep. Art Hershey (R-Chester), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, scheduled a meeting for February 12 to consider a dedicated funding source for Growing Greener, including legislation sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper (R-Montgomery)-- House Bill 2345-- that would increase the Recycling Fee by $5 for Growing Greener.  Click Here for more.

In late February, then Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell proposed a short-term funding fix for the Growing Greener Program by supporting legislation-- House Bill 2334-- to put a $150 million bond issue on the ballot for voters to approve.

In May 2002, Gov. Schweiker kicked off Pennsylvania’s first Watershed Awareness Month to promote the importance of watersheds, another outgrowth of the Growing Greener Program. 

Noting the Growing Greener Program recently won the national 2001 Council of State Government’s Innovation Award, Gov. Schweiker said, “We are proud of the way Growing Greener has inspired and enabled Pennsylvanians to take an active role in restoring and improving the natural beauty of watersheds across the state.

More than 11,000 people are engaged in water quality monitoring across Pennsylvania. The Commonwealth has dedicated significant resources to this effort through the Growing Greener Program-- the largest program in the nation to promote and support the formation of community-based organizations to restore and protect their local watersheds.

It is an honor to share this award with the individuals, organizations, busi- nesses and volunteers whose environmental stewardship is producing great educational and environmental benefits  watershed by watershed  for all Pennsylvanians.”

Rep. Art Hershey (R-Chester), Majority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said, I knew when I introduced the legislation creating Growing Greener three years ago that it was a bold and innovative plan.  Growing Greener addresses a wide range of environmental concerns in Pennsylvania, and I’m glad to see that the program is getting the recognition it deserves. 

Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said, Growing Greener has inspired countless individuals to have a renewed sense of stewardship in their watershed. Watershed Awareness Month reminds us that we all have a stake in clean and healthy waters throughout Pennsylvania.  Click Here for more.

In May of 2002, Secretary Hess accepted the River Network’s National River Heroes Award on behalf of Pennsylvania’s watershed groups. 

“In the last year I’ve been to all 67 counties in Pennsylvania and have seen first-hand how the power of partnerships is restoring and protecting our streams and rivers, Hess said. From kids to senior citizens, from farmers to local officials, from teachers to business people and county conservation districts, Pennsylvanians are working harder than ever to make a positive difference in their communitiesthey are the true river heroes.

Thanks to the leadership of two Governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker  and the bipartisan support of legislators like Sen. David “Chip” Brightbill, Sen. Mary Jo White, Sen. Ray Musto, Rep. Art Hershey, Rep. Sam Smith and Rep. William DeWeese, the Growing Greener program is the largest program of its kind in the nation to support community-based watershed restoration and protection projects.  Click Here for more.

Meanwhile in the General Assembly, work continued with legislators in the House and Senate to find dedicated funding for the Growing Greener Program as the FY 2002-03 budget discussions were coming down to the wire.

In June of 2002, DEP announced a series of public meetings across the state to continue its watershed-based Environmental Futures Planning Process, the initiative based on the 21st Century Commission report. 

The initial phase of the project got feedback from more than 1,500 people who attended 75 local public meetings to discuss how to measure progress toward achieving environmental cleanup goals in their watersheds.  Click Here for more.

On June 27, 2002, the Senate and House non-concurred on House Bill 2044 (Ross-R- Chester) establishing an Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program in DEP.  The action put the bill in a House-Senate conference committee.

The next day-- June 28, 2002-- the Senate and House adopt an agreed-to conference report in House Bill 2044 that included a dedicated source of funding for the Growing Greener Program-- A $4.25 per ton fee on municipal waste disposed in Pennsylvania.

The conference report also included the laboratory program as well as language to crack down on unsafe waste haulers.

On June 29, 2002, Gov. Schweiker signed the bill as Act 90, along with the rest of the FY 2002-03 state budget.

The new budget effectively doubled and extended the Growing Greener Program significantly.  Click Here for more.

The new source of revenue would generate $50 million for Growing Greener in FY 2002-03 and $100 million the following year and each year until 2012.  Overall, it expanded DEP’s portion of Growing Greener to $547.7 million from the original $240 million.

Accomplishments - First 3 Years

During its first three years at DEP, the Growing Greener Program funded 1,100 watershed restoration projects totaling over $333 million ($127 million in public funds, plus $206 million in matching funds), including-- 

-- More than 4,659 acres of abandoned mines will be reclaimed;

-- 5,071 acres of wetlands restored;

-- 487 miles of streamside buffers planted;

-- Built 190.5 miles of stream improvement structures;

-- 1,336 oil and gas wells plugged; and

-- Helped create 125 local watershed organizations.

In addition, Growing Greener also supported several other critical initiatives--

-- Watershed Specialists: The watershed specialists help local groups protect and improve their watersheds; provide expert advice to farmers and landowners for conservation practices; work with DEP regional watershed coordinators on all proposals and projects; and help support local “Growing Greener” projects in their counties.  Growing Greener now supports 58 watershed specialist positions covering 61 of the 67 counties in the Commonwealth.

-- Building Capacity:  DEP, through the Growing Greener program is working to establish a network of technical assistance providers to help watershed organizations effectively and efficiently achieve their watershed protection goals.  These providers offer FREE services to groups embarking on projects to protect and enhance their local watersheds.  So far, DEP has 15 technical assistance providers, awarded $3.7 million through Growing Greener. 

-- Innovative Technology:  Growing Greener supports new and innovative technology for water and sewer infrastructure projects.  Up to 10 percent of Growing Greener funds can be used to improve existing drinking water and sewage treatment facilities through the use of new or innovative technology.  These grants offer the opportunity for organizations to explore technological advances that will improve the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of existing facilities.  So far, DEP has awarded $500,000 in innovative technology grants through Growing Greener.

Water Resources Act

On November 26, just four days before the constitutionally mandated end of the 2001-02 legislative session when all bills die, the Senate and House gave final approval to the bipartisan Water Resources Planning Act-- House Bill 2302-- ending a more than 20-year effort to adopt water resources legislation in Pennsylvania.

“Passage of this act is a real milestone in Pennsylvania’s environmental history and shows we listened to what people told us in the 15 Water Forums we held all over the state last year,” said DEP Secretary Hess. “This is a major victory for those of us who really care about water resources.”

“A broad coalition of groups representing the environmental, government and business came together from all four corners of the Commonwealth to accomplish something that people have tried to do for more than 20 years,” said Hess. “I want to thank all the legislators, individuals and groups and DEP staff who made this historic event possible.”

The Act puts in law another major recommendation of the Governor’s 21st Century Environment Commission.  Click Here for more.

Find Out More

The Growing Greener Program continued, was changed dramatically from its core mission, capped and then reduced in size since the end of the Ridge and Schweiker Administrations in January of 2003.

But, it’s legacy of success is there for all to see and it continues to be an effective source of funding, albeit smaller, to support community-based environmental restoration, recreation, land conservation and other projects across the state.

For more information on one of the most successful environmental programs ever created in Pennsylvania, visit the PA Land Trust Association’s Environmental Stewardship Fund website.

Click Here to locate projects funded in your community.

Take Action

To learn more about how you can become involved in pushing for more state investment in community-based environmental restoration projects through Growing Greener, visit the Growing Greener Coalition website.

(Photo: Gov. Ridge signing the Growing Greener legislation on Dec. 15, 1999 in Chester County. Signing photo courtesy of Pennsylvania State Archives.)

Related Articles In This Series:

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge: Expanding Partnerships To Clean Up The Susquehanna River And The Chesapeake Bay Beyond

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Joins With Governors Of Delaware, New Jersey, Federal Officials To Establish The Delaware Estuary Program

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Thanks First Environmental Excellence Award Winning Businesses For Eliminating 1.4 Million Tons Of Waste, Pollution

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Talks About Rebuilding Pennsylvania's Industrial Heritage Through Land Recycling

1996 - Gov. Tom Ridge Talks About The Vision And Actions Needed To Restore Our Environment At The PA Environmental Council’s Three Rivers Awards

1996 - Department Of Environmental Protection Mission Statement & Statement Of Values

1995-2002 - DEP Secretary James M. Seif: The Assignment Was Clear - Take The Kick Me! Sign Off DER

1995-2002 - DEP Secretary David E. Hess: Many New Hands Now Help Protect Penn’s Woods

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

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

[Posted: December 8, 2019]


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