OUTREACH NEEDED – Senate Environmental Committee Puts Spotlight On Funding Needed To Implement PA Clean Water Plan At Chesapeake Bay Briefing
See article below about today’s hearing – The Chesapeake Bay Commission continues to push for water use fees (see Ann Swanson testimony below) to pay for the bay cleanup.
Any such funding proposal will move quickly and quietly so it is imperative that each drinking water system reach out to their state legislators ASAP and let them know how you feel about such a fee and what its impact will be.
Senate Environmental Committee Puts Spotlight On Funding Needed To Implement PA Clean Water Plan At Chesapeake Bay Briefing
On January 8, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee put a spotlight on the resources needed to implement Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Plan to meet Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations at a special public briefing held in conjunction with the PA Farm Show in Harrisburg
The Committee heard from representatives of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, PA Farm Bureau, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA, the departments of Agriculture and Environmental Protection and the State Conservation Commission which administers programs supporting county conservation districts.
There were three things participants agreed on–
— We Have A Credible Plan: The Phase III Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan submitted to EPA showing how Pennsylvania would meet its water quality cleanup obligations was built from the ground up, based on significant local input and buy-in and represents the most credible plan ever developed by the state.
— We Need More Resources: Many more resources were needed to implement the stakeholder-backed recommendations in the Plan, including help for farmers to install conservation practices, for communities to deal with issues like stormwater and to provide incentives for installing riparian stream buffers.
— Momentum: As a result of the stakeholder process that was used to develop the WIP III Plan and other issues, there is now momentum and energy building to address clean water issues in the General Assembly and across the state.
At the start of the briefing, Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Committee and the incoming Chair of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission said– “We have more attention on clean water issues now in the General Assembly than we’ve had at any time I can remember.
“I do know one thing, if we have clean water in Pennsylvania, the Bay will take care of itself.”
In the announcement of the briefing, Sen. Yaw said, “Based on extensive testing and undertakings, we know where the problems are in the watershed. Without question, we face significant challenges in meeting the EPA TMDL requirements.
“We just need the time and, most importantly, the resources to address those problem areas.”
Here’s a quick summary of some of the comments made by participants in the briefing.
Ann Swanson, Executive Director of the interstate Chesapeake Bay Commission, started her remarks by agreeing with Sen. Yaw and repeated, if we have clean water in Pennsylvania we will have a clean Chesapeake Bay. That’s how important Pennsylvania is.
The Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers 50 percent of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania contributes 50 percent of the Bay’s fresh water. It is responsible for 43 percent of the nitrogen and 26 percent of the phosphorus pollution load going to the Bay.
Since 1985, Pennsylvania has reduced its nitrogen by 14.6 million pounds, more than any other state in the watershed, because Pennsylvania has the biggest problem.
Swanson said, essentially money buys progress in reducing nutrient pollution. Other states in the watershed have dedicated funding sources to address these issues and Pennsylvania does not.
Swanson said there are a variety of options for dedicated funding, including water use fees, eliminating the sales tax exclusion for bottled water and joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
But she also noted funding is not only needed in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, but statewide, because Pennsylvania has more streams almost all other states [and 40 percent do not meet current water quality standards].
[Note: On January 24, 2017, Sen. Yaw and other Pennsylvania members of the Chesapeake Bay Commission wrote to all members of the General Assembly putting a spotlight on the need to address the state’s water pollution cleanup problem and suggested creating a dedicated Clean Water Fund for Pennsylvania.
[One proposal outlined in the letter was to raise $245 million a year through a fee on water use. Click Here for more.
[The stakeholder-driven Phase III Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan submitted by Pennsylvania to EPA identifies the need for $324 million a year in funding to support direct financial incentives, technical assistance and other measures to implement the Plan.
[On December 19, the Environmental Protection Agency notified Pennsylvania the plan it submitted falls 25 percent short of meeting the necessary nutrient reduction goals and falls to identify funding to implement the plan. Click Here for more.]
David Graybill, a Juniata County dairy farmer, a member of the WIP III Agriculture Workgroup and a PA Farm Bureau Board member, said “like many farmers I know and work with, I take conservation seriously. We cannot operate profitable farms without fertile topsoil and clean water.
“The best way we can maintain fertile ground is to make sure that our topsoil stays in place. With the help of farm advisors, I have implemented numerous conservation practices to prevent runoff.
“I routinely plant cover crops to make sure that there is always something growing on our fields– especially during the winter and spring seasons. I also routinely test our soil to monitor the amount of organic matter and ensure that we are not over applying nutrients.
“In addition, I have installed a leak detection system on my manure pit to monitor for the potential of seepage. Our barnyard and barn roofs have systems in place that direct stormwater into grassy areas.
“The steps that I have taken are not unique approaches. Throughout the state of Pennsylvania, you will see farmers like me implementing programs to control runoff and prevent soil loss.
“These practices have proven track records of success and can help farmers with their bottom line.
“On a broader scale, it also shows that agriculture can implement practices that have positive results on local waterways.
“Productive farms, and clean water, can coexist. In fact, one of the state’s largest dairy farms is located next to a world-renowned trout stream in Huntingdon County. Anyone who fishes for trout know these fish are an excellent indicator of clean water.
“A substantial portion of the conservation measures implemented on farms have been paid for by farmers’ own money, without government financial assistance. This speaks to the conservation ethic that is present in so many farm families.
“It was made clear during numerous meetings I attended in formulating our Watershed Implementation Plan is that Pennsylvania will have to demonstrate a good faith effort at making progress toward nutrient reduction goals.
“However, additional state resources will be needed to achieve that progress, along with changes in laws and regulations. According to our Watershed Implementation Plan, we are facing a $324 million funding gap between money currently available and what is needed to pay for the conservation measures that will get us to Bay goals by EPA’s 2025 deadline.
“In particular, there is a real lack of on-the-ground expertise to assist farmers, be it private consultants or those working for conservation districts, to help farmers design and implement the projects needed to move Pennsylvania meaningfully toward reaching water quality goals in the Bay watershed.
“Equally problematic in financing and implementing the type and scale of conservation measures needed in Pennsylvania’s Bay watershed is the current condition of Pennsylvania’s farm economy. Pennsylvania farmers are facing serious economic hardship. Anyone who has been watching the farm economy knows that farmers across the state are losing money.
“Losses experienced on Pennsylvania farms likely cause many important farm projects, even necessary repairs, to be postponed. This is not the kind of economy that is going to encourage out-of-pocket conservation work—even the type that may improve the farm’s bottom line long term.
“Given the current condition of the agriculture economy, grants and tax credits are how farmers will fund best management practices. In the future, low-interest loans could be of help, but many farmers have extended their debt load well beyond a point of being comfortable and are hesitant to take on any more loans. It’s our hope that Pennsylvania will at least provide the same level of investment in farm conservation in this year’s budget.
“… (W)e support Senate Bill 679 [Yaw-R-Lycoming], which this Committee recently passed with bipartisan support. This legislation will give county governments the authority to create stream cleaning programs. Our members continue to experience problems with their lands and crops being washed away during heavy rain events.
“Secondly, on the issue of stormwater, we are finding that farmers are being unfairly penalized by efforts to create municipal stormwater management systems. Municipalities throughout the Chesapeake Bay Watershed have enacted stormwater management programs, and are collecting fees to pay for engineering—and eventually for projects.
“Such a fee structure ignores all the conservation measures that farmers have put in place to manage erosion and stormwater runoff. It also ignores the natural benefit that open farm land provides in controlling stormwater. The percentage of impervious surface to total land area on farms is much lower than the percentage of impervious surface to total land area commonly existing on residential properties.
“We have been working with Senator Lisa Baker [R-Luzerne] to introduce legislation that will change how municipalities assess stormwater fees on agriculture properties. Essentially, the legislation would limit the amount of fee a farmer is assessed based on average fees being assessed on residential properties—provided that the operator can demonstrate that less than 30 percent of the farm’s total land area is impervious.
“And it would provide additional credits to farmers who make additional investments in projects to improve water quality.
“No matter the mandates in the Chesapeake Bay cleanup plan, farmers in Pennsylvania will continue to act as good stewards of the land. We are the original conservationists. Farmers have long recognized that a healthy farm is created by fertile soil and clean water.
“We recognize there are steps that every Pennsylvanian living in the Bay watershed will have to do to address water quality—whether its keeping livestock out of streams or not over applying fertilizer to front lawns. Pennsylvania farmers are committed to working towards those goals.
Bill Chain, Senior Ag Program Manager, Chesapeake Bay Foundation-PA, there are many things that are working in the current Chesapeake Bay Program, including many farmers who voluntarily adopt conservation practices and spend their own money to do it.
In a mix of his presentation before the Committee and written notes submitted to the Committee, Chain said–
“I’ve never met a farmer that didn’t want to leave the farm better than they found it.”
Chain said what we need is for our legislature to join in. We need Leadership, Commitment and Investment. You need to invest in the practices that have the lowest cost and highest value and return.
What’s needed is for our state government to recognize the effort that currently exists and to enhance that effort with a commitment to legislating and funding an Ag Conservation Costs Share Program that includes the essential resources to implement conservation practices on the scale necessary.
The Program should–
— Follow the Agriculture Work Group recommendations in the WIP III
— Provides equitable funding that works and acts locally, provides cost-share for practices that also improve the economic viability for the family farmer.
This program will not be cheap, it will be an investment.
Chain said there is momentum right now in this program and we need to take advantage of that.
Russell Redding, Secretary Of Agriculture, said Pennsylvania is at “a very serious moment,” we’ve gone through a process to produce a very credible WIP III Plan with the Steering Committee, all the Work Groups and arrived at a credible plan that is key to Pennsylvania’s agriculture’s future.
He noted the theme of the PA Farm Show– Imagine the Opportunities– and added now Imagine the Opportunities for Clean Water and for Pennsylvania agriculture.
Redding said Pennsylvania will be called upon as never before to deliver on the stakeholder-driven recommendations in the WIP Plan. We have more clarity today on which Best Management Practices deliver the most results and their cost.
But, to get the job done, Redding said, this can’t just fall on agriculture. It’s also the application of fertilizer on laws and expressed appreciation to Sen. Yaw for introducing Senate Bill 915 which would certify applicators, establish best management practices for fertilizer use and provide for an education program on those practices.
“We have the right plan at the right moment, now we need time and money, as Sen. Yaw pointed out,” agreed Redding.
On the funding issue, Redding noted Gov. Wolf proposed Restore PA to help fund Best Management Practices in the WIP III Plan and statewide that are critical to agriculture.
Patrick McDonnell, Secretary of DEP, said every time he hears the word “challenge” he inserts opportunities with respect to clean water in Pennsylvania.
He explained in Virginia, the nutrient problem is almost all from wastewater plants, in Maryland it is 50-50– agriculture and wastewater plants– and in Pennsylvania is 80 percent from agriculture and 20 percent from wastewater plants.
McDonnell said the wastewater sector has met the obligation in the Bay because funding was provided by PennVEST, the H2O Program and local sources.
He said as we address the Bay issues, we are not only solving the nutrient pollution problems, we are also addressing stormwater and flooding and improving agriculture soil health.
McDonnell said the partnership with conservation districts and the Department of Agriculture is critical to addressing this issue.
He noted the shortfall in funding to implement the stakeholder-driven WIP III Plan is $324 million annually. He said they have not only looked for ways to PennVEST and other existing funding resources to address this gap, but to building partnerships with agencies like the Fish and Boat Commission to restore streams and watersheds.
DEP is also using available federal funding more effectively, in particular to help the four pilot counties– Lancaster, Adams, Franklin and York– implement the county-based clean water plans they developed as part of the Bay process.
McDonnell also agreed momentum is building citing the county-based clean water planning process that is the foundation of the WIP III Plan.
“We’ve created a real interest and energy in addressing clean water, and this is the time to take advantage of the energy to implement WIP III,” McDonnell said.
The WIP III builds on a county-level clean water planning model to develop locally focused plans with local stakeholders that know about local resources and where additional resources are needed to supplement that effort.
Karl Brown; Executive Secretary of the State Conservation Commission, said the WIP III is a good Plan, has a good focus and it has a level of local input and local buy-in that he has not seen before.
He then gave a status report on the Conservation Excellence Program that was adopted as part of the PA Farm Bill initiatives enacted last year to provide an additional $6 million in grant assistance, Agri-Link loans and to expand and change the REAP farm conservation tax credit to support on-farm conservation practices.
Brown said they are looking at a pilot Conservation Excellence Program in Lancaster and York counties delegated from the Commission to the county conservation districts. Up to $1 million in cost share and $250,000 each for technical assistance and oversight of the program will be available to the counties..
Guidelines will be published shortly on the Program as well as a Conservation Financial Educator’s Package to share more information about the programs now available to support farmers.
For more information on how Pennsylvania plans to meet its Chesapeake Bay cleanup obligations, visit DEP’s PA’s Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan webpage.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to: [email protected]. Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7305 or sending email to: [email protected].
Source: PA Environmental Digest Blog, 1/8/2020 http://paenvironmentdaily.blogspot.com/2020/01/senate-environmental-committee-puts.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PaEnvironmentDaily+%28PA+Environment+Daily+Blog%29
Erik A. Ross
Milliron & Goodman Government Relations, LLC.
200 North 3rd Street
Harrisburg, PA 17101