August 20, 2008
PA Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition
To: ENVIRONMENTAL EDITORS
Contact: Lamonte Garber of Chesapeake Bay Foundation, +1-717-576- 3287; or Mark O'Neill of PA Farm Bureau, +1-717-731-3583; or John Brosious of PA Municipal Authorities Assoc, +1-717-737-7655; or Susan Marquart of PA Assn. of Conservation Districts, +1-717-238- 7223; or Scott Elliott of PA Builders Assoc, +1-717-730-4380ROCK SPRINGS, Pa., Aug. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- While the budget adopted by the state in July included major new funding to improve wastewater infrastructure, it did little to address the needs of farmers required to meet state and federal clean water mandates or to create a Nutrient Credit Trading Bank that would lower the cost of meeting the mandates, according to the Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition.
Representatives of the Coalition, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, presented testimony today to the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee during a public hearing on farm conservation funding needs at Ag Progress Days near State College.
"Federal and state clean water mandates require both wastewater plants and farmers to reduce nutrient pollution running in Pennsylvania's rivers and streams," said Matthew Ehrhart, Pennsylvania Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "While we were pleased the Fair Share Coalition was able to secure funds for infrastructure upgrades, we were very disappointed the Governor and General Assembly did not provide any new help for Pennsylvania's family farmers, especially given the fact that agriculture is one of the largest sources of impairment to local rivers and streams."
"Farmers have been hard at work reducing nutrient runoff over the last 25 years," said Ehrhart. "When it comes to agriculture, we're dealing with thousands of small business' with limited resources. But we cannot afford to let other priorities continue to overshadow the needs of the farm community that faces a daunting challenge."
The Department of Environmental Protection has estimated it will cost farmers over $600 million for the Susquehanna River Watershed alone to meet clean water mandates.
"For many farm families, the problem is not that they don't know what needs to be done to make environmental improvements on their farms," said Joel Rotz, Governmental Affairs Director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. "The problem is having the technical and financial resources to implement the environmental improvements that are needed."
Conservation districts, which deliver key farm and environmental programs at the local level, have only seen a 1 percent funding increase since 2005. As costs continue to escalate, many conservation districts will be faced with the difficult decision of which programs to reduce or discontinue in order to keep their doors open.
"Conservation districts deliver not just state conservation programs, but federal programs as well," said Susan F. Marquart, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts. "The federal government has expanded the new Farm Bill to help farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed meet water quality mandates. It would be a shame if the higher conservation funding levels within the new Farm Bill are underutilized because there are too few technical people in the field to help farmers qualify for the very programs the federal government has expanded."
The General Assembly and Gov. Rendell did approve water infrastructure funding that will potentially reach $1.2 billion in statewide grants and loans for water-related projects, if a $400 million bond issue referendum is approved in November.
"While we are pleased that additional funding was approved for wastewater plant upgrades that will begin to address Pennsylvania's $20 billion in water infrastructure needs, however, agricultural operations must also be given the technical and financial resources necessary to allow them to achieve compliance with clean water mandates," said John Brosious Deputy Director for the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association. "PMAA is a strong supporter of the REAP tax credit program and other farm conservation funding which provides incentives to farmers to implement best management practices and produce nutrient reduction credits."
The Coalition has also recommended changes to the state's nutrient credit trading program, but these have not yet been addressed.
Grant Gulibon, Regulatory Specialist with the Pennsylvania Builders Association, explained the economic and environmental benefits of increasing agricultural conservation funding and reforming the nutrient credit trading program, which has not been perceived as a viable option to date by either possible credit users or generators.
"State government must use the limited funds available for Chesapeake Bay cleanup efforts in a manner that delivers the largest possible environmental improvements at the lowest possible cost," said Gulibon. "For those efforts to reach their full potential while at the same time protecting future economic growth, increased agricultural conservation funding and reform of the nutrient credit trading program developed by the state Department of Environmental Protection must also be approved by the General Assembly and the governor. These two initiatives, in tandem, will also increase the effectiveness of the new state funding available for sewage treatment plant upgrades."
Gulibon thanked Committee Chair Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton) for introducing House Bill 2654, which contains a nutrient credit trading bank. He also noted the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy and Agricultural and Rural Affairs Committees have scheduled a hearing on September 17 to take comments on Senate Bill 1493, introduced by Senator Pat Vance (R-Cumberland), which contains a nutrient credit trading bank and additional reforms intended to improve the viability of the trading program
The Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition supports these additional steps needed to help ratepayers and farm families comply with clean water mandates-
-- $50 million in direct cost share aid to farmers to install conservation practices ($35 for REAP farm tax credits and $15 million in cost share grants);
-- $10 million to county conservation district to expand technical assistance to farmers;
-- $10 million to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget in farm programs; and
-- Reforms to the state's nutrient credit trading program that will help to make it a viable alternative to provide for both environmental improvements to the Bay and sufficient future sewage capacity for new development.
The Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition will also be working actively in the fall to promote voter approval of the $400 million bond issue referendum passed as part of the wastewater infrastructure funding package.
More than 40 farm, business, environmental and sportsmen's groups are part of the Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition.
For more information, visit the Fair Share for Clean Water Plan website at www.PaFairSharePlan.org.
SOURCE PA Fair Share For Clean Water Coalition
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