The Pennsylvania General Assembly is beginning a new two-year session in 2021. The Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and House, but not enough to override a governor veto. Governor Wolf has two years left in his second term with a new gubernatorial election in 2022.
We have identified the following three core priorities for the 2021-22 session. It's important to recognize that these may change as the two-year session unfolds.
Enacting a State-based Conservation Program for Farmers
Pennsylvania is one of the few states within the Bay watershed without an agriculture cost share program. This is a program that helps farmers design and implement conservation practices, like forested stream buffers and cover crops, that keep farm soils and nutrients on the land instead of running into the water.
Pennsylvania's family farmers, of which there are more than 33,500 in the Commonwealth's portion of the Bay watershed, are the best hope for restoring Pennsylvania's rivers, streams, and the Bay. Farmers want healthy, productive farms. But too often they can't do it entirely alone.
CBF has been working alongside the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau as well as Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, the State Conservation Commission, and others to draft legislation establishing the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP). This program would provide county conservation districts with additional resources to help farmers design and defer the costs of implementing conservation practices. Levels of support would be based on factors like the size of the farming community and number of agriculturally impaired streams in each county.
In late summer 2020, Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) introduced the ACAP bill with the support of bipartisan cosponsors. We and our partners plan to continue to work closely with the General Assembly and the Wolf administration to bring the program into existence.
The major cause of water quality problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is nonpoint source pollution. The ACAP legislation would help address this source of pollution by providing technical and financial resources, as well as supporting the Keystone 10 Million Trees Partnership. For FY21, we will continue engaging diverse partners; assessing the need for a coalition; educating legislators, policymakers, and stakeholders; and researching, developing, and campaigning for funding sources in order to move the ACAP legislation forward.
Advocating for Sufficient Resources in the State Budget
The state budget represents the priorities of the Commonwealth. For well over a decade, conservation program monies have been diverted and key environmental regulation, conservation, and agricultural agencies have lost funding and staff. In fact, today the Department of Environmental Protection has a staffing level near what it was in the early to mid-1990s. This past fall, there were numerous legislative efforts to divert resources and underfund conservation and protection agencies via a special state budget process. Some failed, but many succeeded.
A lack of staff and general resources at these agencies means key programs, like clean water permitting and enforcement and the Growing Greener Grant program, are hindered in their ability to protect and restore the health and well-being of Pennsylvania's citizens and the environment. We will continue to advocate that these agencies, and the programs they provide, maintain and even gain additional support through the annual state budget.
Opposing Legislation That Would Degrade Public Health and the Environment
CBF will continue our efforts to defend against legislation that threatens to impact Pennsylvania's environmental and public health. Some examples from last session include legislation that sought to limit the Department of Environmental Protection's abilities, allow polluters to "self-regulate" chemical spills and discharges, hand over permitting authority to private industry, and divert limited conservation dollars to private companies.