(HARRISBURG, PA)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) believes that Governor Tom Wolf's proposed $32.7 billion budget for 2016-17 lacks the resources to implement Pennsylvania's new, improved clean water Blueprint. Unless the Commonwealth invests more in clean water, Pennsylvania will not meet its clean water commitments.
"Pennsylvania's new strategy for cleaning up polluted waterways requires the necessary investments from Governor Wolf, the legislature, as well as a unified effort across the Commonwealth to implement the plan it announced in January," CBF Pennsylvania Executive Director Harry Campbell said. "While this 'rebooted' effort establishes a framework for success, we do not see enough resources in the Governor's budget proposal to ensure that success."
Roughly 19,000 miles of rivers and streams in Pennsylvania have been damaged by pollution. Efforts to reduce nitrogen and sediment pollution from agriculture and urban polluted runoff are off-track by millions of pounds.
Any plan is only as effective as its implementation, and adequate funding is essential to the success of Pennsylvania's efforts to get pollution reduction back on track. A new generation of Growing Greener funding, which would support clean water and other environmental efforts, was not included in Governor Wolf's budget proposal.
CBF calls for new Growing Greener funds. "Growing Greener could be a down payment for renewed clean water efforts, but more resources will be needed to meet clean water needs," Campbell said. A Penn State study indicates it will cost nearly $380 million per year, to implement just the agricultural practices that would get Pennsylvania back on track to meet its clean water goals for 2025.
"Clean and healthy waters help produce healthy kids," Campbell said. "Meeting Pennsylvania's clean water commitments reduces certain health hazards of pollution. Clean water also supports students' ability to experience and learn about our natural resources, while meeting their other educational goals as well."
The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) acknowledged that it alone cannot provide and protect clean water as called for in the new strategy. A continued lack of funding for DEP makes implementing the Commonwealth's new strategy to reduce pollution that much tougher.
Since 2002, DEP has seen its staff reduced by 22 percent, over 700 positions. During the latest hiring freezing the department is not permitted to fill key, necessary positions in several regulatory programs. Since 2002-03, about $2 billion in environmentally-related funding has been diverted from DEP and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to other uses in order to balance the budget.
In 2010, the Bay states and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set pollution limits that would restore water quality in local rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay, and each state developed its own plan to meet those limits. This came after more than 30 years of failed restoration commitments.
The states also made two-year milestone commitments to ensure progress toward reducing pollution. The goal is to implement 60 percent of practices to restore local water quality in the Commonwealth by 2017, and 100 percent implementation by 2025. Unfortunately, the state will not meet its 2017 goal, as acknowledged by DEP Secretary John Quigley.
EPA promised consequences for states failing to meet their commitments. EPA withheld nearly $3 million in federal funding from the Commonwealth for efforts significantly behind in meeting clean water goals. The money was restored when Pennsylvania unveiled its new plan to reduce pollution.
The new plan defines six immediate and longer-term actions designed to get Pennsylvania back on track.
The plan intends to establish a culture of compliance and significantly increase the number of farm inspections. At current DEP staffing levels, it would take almost 57 years for each farm to be inspected just once. The DEP intends to utilize conservation district staff and its own staff to accelerate its inspection rate to meet the EPA recommendation of inspecting 10 percent of farms annually.
The new plan also calls for accelerating the planting of streamside buffers, the most affordable solution for filtering and reducing the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution.
The plan also addresses the challenges of polluted runoff from urban/suburban areas, including updated permit requirements and implementation plans by local governments, and the development of innovative financing opportunities.
Governor Wolf's proposed budget for 2016-17 also calls for a 6.5 percent severance tax on natural gas drilling. "CBF supports a reasonable severance tax on natural gas extraction, if funds are applied to reduce water pollution and restore Pennsylvania's rivers and streams," Campbell said. "Dedicating a portion of a new natural gas severance tax toward cleaning up our polluted waterways improves and protects the health and economic well-being of every Pennsylvanian."
Investing in clean water pays dividends. Conservation practices not only improve water quality, but can improve farm production and herd health, reduce nuisance flooding in communities, improve hunting and fishing, beautify urban centers, and even clean the air.
A 2014 economic analysis found that fully implementing Pennsylvania's clean water plans will result in an increase in the value of natural benefits by $6.2 billion annually.
"Pennsylvania must allocate resources to implement its new strategy to achieve clean streams," Campbell added.