The Pennsylvania General Assembly is in year two of the two-year session, which started in January 2021. The Republicans hold a majority in the Senate and House, but not enough to override a veto by the governor. Governor Wolf is in his final year of his second term and Pennsylvanians will choose a new governor in the November election.
As evident in our latest State of the Blueprint report, time is running out. Less than four years remain to the 2025 implementation deadline for the historic Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint—our last, best chance to save the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Its success, especially in Pennsylvania, is critical to our region’s health, economy, outdoor heritage, and quality of life.
As the 2021-22 Pennsylvania session continues, so too does our work on the following three core legislative priorities that are critical to Blueprint success.
Enacting a State-Based Conservation Program for Farmers
Pennsylvania is one of the few states within the Bay watershed without a standalone agricultural cost-share 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 in the water.
Pennsylvania’s family farmers, of which there are more than 33,500 in the state’s portion of the Bay watershed, are the best hope for restoring Pennsylvania’s rivers and 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 additional resources to help farmers design and defer the costs of implementing conservation practices. Levels of support would be based on factors such as the size of the farming community and number of agriculturally impaired streams in each county.
At the moment, there are several avenues to establish ACAP. Senate Bill 465, introduced by Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), would create ACAP. And Senate Bill 832 and House Bill 1901 would create ACAP as part of comprehensive package called the Clean Streams Fund (CSF), a $250 million comprehensive funding package to address the top sources of stream pollution in the state. In fact, the CSF would dedicate $125 million (50 percent) towards ACAP. The CSF would also invest in reducing the impacts of polluted runoff from urban areas, cleaning up acid mine drainage, and restoring abandoned mine land across the state, and helping plant more trees alongside Pennsylvania’s streams and streets.
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.
Recent federal investments to aid in recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic and propel the nation’s aging infrastructure to 21st century standards, represent an unparalleled opportunity to invest in clean water efforts across the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania received nearly $7.3 billion in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) resources. The recently passed federal infrastructure bill will deliver roughly $4.4 billion to Pennsylvania. But roughly $6.0 billion of ARP resources has not been allocated for use. And, while Governor Wolf has laid out seven focus areas for the state’s share of the infrastructure funding, it has yet to be finalized.
Both funding resources should be leveraged to invest in green infrastructure on Pennsylvania’s farms and communities. As noted above, $250 million of the remaining ARP resources is proposed to fund the Clean Streams Fund. And portions of the remaining monies should support key state agency programs, like clean water permitting and enforcement and reinvesting in the state Growing Greener Grant program.
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 the previous session that sought to limit the Department of Environmental Protection’s abilities, thwart efforts to regulate greenhouse gases, 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.