CBF Says Senate Bill Could Derail Clean Water Efforts in Pennsylvania

Press Release
April 23, 2015

Chesapeake Bay Foundation Says Senate Bill Could Derail Clean Water Efforts in Pennsylvania

(HARRISBURG, PA)���The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) says Pennsylvania Senate Bill 724 threatens to derail current clean water restoration efforts and divert critical funding from proven science-based practices, while favoring proprietary, corporate-backed and costly manure technologies.

CBF is disappointed that Senate Bill 724 was introduced April 14, as a reconstituted version of the flawed and failed Senate Bill 994 from the legislature's last session. Sen. Elder Vogel (R-Beaver) was the prime sponsor of both bills.

"Although some phrases are different in the latest Senate Bill 724, it is still a fundamentally flawed bill," said CBF's Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell.

Pennsylvania must accelerate progress if it is to have 60 percent of the pollution reduction practices in place by 2017, the first formal deadline. The Commonwealth's nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are considerably off-track. Pennsylvania appears to be on track to  meet its phosphorus reduction goal.

A recent report by the PA Auditor General on the Commonwealth's efforts to meet its pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay, urged greater support for the use of low-cost solutions and technologies as alternatives to higher-cost public and infrastructure projects.

CBF agrees with the Auditor General that there is no "silver bullet" for achieving the required nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment reductions, and CBF does not view Senate Bill 724 as the panacea some are portraying it to be.

"There is a well-defined, scientifically supported, approved, and achievable blueprint for clean water in Pennsylvania," Campbell added. "Pollution reduction practices like forested buffers, cover crops, and no-till farming are low-cost but highly effective. They address nutrient and sediment pollution, and many reduce flooding, improve trout habitat, and beautify communities."

Manure treatment technologies do not offer a comprehensive solution for pollution reduction, particularly for nitrogen. Manure is only a portion of the total nutrient pollution entering Pennsylvania streams, rivers, and the Chesapeake Bay. The systems also do not reduce sediment pollution, the leading cause of impairment of 19,000 miles of Commonwealth streams.

Senate Bill 724 does little to help the more than 59,000 farms across Pennsylvania, who must develop and follow plans to manage manure and chemical fertilizers and prevent erosion from farm fields. These practices help farms keep soil and nutrients on the land, and out of waterways.

"Many farmers need support to put best management practices in place and Senate Bill 724 threatens to syphon resources away from farmers," Campbell added.

The bill would establish an undefined nutrient credit trading program. Such a program allows those meeting a set of baseline requirements to sell pollution reduction "credits" to those needing them, like sewage treatment plants. The PA Department of Environmental Protection and PENNVEST already offer certified nutrient credits through a market-based online exchange and auction.

If the cost structure of Senate Bill 724 parallels that of its predecessor bill, CBF sees its alternative system as neither cost-effective nor affordable. The most recent auction in June 2014, nitrogen credits were sold for $2.27 per credit. A December 2012 report by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee estimated the sustainable cost per credit for technology included in the earlier bill was $11 per credit.

CBF is calling on the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee to conduct a hearing on Senate Bill 724, so the complexity of the issue and bill's fiscal and regulatory implications can be considered before it is brought to a vote.  

Pennsylvania must continue to move forward in its commitment to clean water. To backtrack on saving the Chesapeake Bay means the Commonwealth will continue to have polluted water, human health risks, and lost jobs. Clean water is a legacy worth leaving future generations.

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