The Pennsylvania elections in November 2022 and special elections in February 2023 have thrown the dynamics of the 2023-24 General Assembly session into uncertainty, but CBF is cautiously optimistic. The 2025 Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint deadline is rapidly approaching with much clean water restoration work remaining. While an important moment in Bay restoration, 2025 is a deadline, not a finish line—all Bay jurisdictions and the federal government must use the lessons learned to redouble their efforts, achieve the Blueprint targets as quickly as possible, and create a healthy, resilient watershed for all.
We urge the new legislature and new governor to take the Commonwealth's commitment to clean water to the next level during this two-year session. This means:
- sustaining critical assistance for farmers to be able to implement clean water practices while improving the health and productivity of their farms;
- sufficiently funding environmental agencies; and
- opposing legislation that degrades public health and the environment.
Enacting a State-Based Conservation Program for Farmers
As part of legislation called the Clean Streams Fund (CSF), Pennsylvania's 2022-23 state budget invested $220 million of unallocated federal American Rescue Plan funding towards programs that address the top three sources of stream impairment in the state. Seventy percent ($154 million) is dedicated towards establishing a statewide agricultural conservation cost-share program, known as the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP). The program will help the Commonwealth's more than 50,000 family farmers design and implement conservation practices, like stream fencing to help keep livestock out of streams, forested stream buffers and cover crops, and other practices.
CBF worked alongside the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, as well as Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, and others to draft legislation to establish ACAP, which was later incorporated into CSF. This program provides county conservation districts additional resources to help farmers design and defer the costs of implementing conservation practices. Levels of support are based on factors such as the size of the farming community and number of agriculturally impaired streams in each county.
The CSF will also invest in reducing the impacts of polluted runoff from urban areas, cleaning up acid mine drainage, planting trees alongside streams and streets, and helping municipalities reduce polluted stormwater runoff.
Accelerating efforts to help farmers protect herd health while restoring streams through streamside fencing is also on our radar. Programs like ACAP will help, but other tools like legislation empowering local governments to assist may be necessary to continue the momentum and get us closer to cleaner rivers and streams in the Commonwealth.
CBF looks forward to working with legislators so that this monumental level of commitment to conservation is sustained beyond this one budget and so the Commonwealth can get back on track toward meeting its clean water commitments.
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 and conservation and agricultural agencies have lost funding and staff. Routinely, there were numerous legislative efforts to divert resources and underfund conservation and protection agencies via a special state budget process. Some fail but many succeed. Further, in the recently amended Pennsylvania Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan, it was projected that an additional 100 new resource agency staff would be needed in order to implement the plan.
With the recent passage of the 2022-23 state budget, the three resource agencies of the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and Department of Agriculture received increases of $13.6 million, $12.9 million, and $51.9 million, respectively. County conservation districts received an additional $6.8 million.
In addition, the state budget allocates $320 million towards various water and sewer projects and $156 million towards parks and recreation infrastructure improvements.
CBF will be working to ensure the 2023-24 state budget features equally historic investments in agriculture and clean water programs.
Opposing Legislation That Would Degrade Public Health and the Environment
CBF will continue to fight legislation that threatens to negatively impact Pennsylvania’s environment and public health, like those from previous sessions that sought to limit the Department of Environmental Protection’s abilities, thwart efforts to reduce the impacts of climate change, allow polluters to “self-regulate” chemical spills and discharges, hand over permitting authority to private industry, and undermine the ability of state environmental agencies to protect the health, well-being, and quality of life the citizens of Pennsylvania and their environment.