Contending that Pennsylvania has shortchanged efforts to clean up the Chesapeake, a diverse coalition in April called for $170 million in additional spending this year to help farmers, local governments and others control nutrient pollution.
The Fair Share for Clean Water Plan calls for the General Assembly to provide $100 million for wastewater treatment plant upgrades, and $70 million for various agriculture programs in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The coalition wants similar levels of spending over the next few years to help meet Bay cleanup goals and reduce burdens on sewage ratepayers and farmers.
"Over the past year and a half, there have been a lot of meetings and discussion about how to address the water quality improvement mandates for the Chesapeake Bay, in particular, and Pennsylvania," said Matthew Ehrhart, Pennsylvania executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "We have come to the point where we can no longer talk about solutions. We must make solutions happen."
In addition to the CBF, the initiative was put forth by the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, the Pennsylvania Builders Association and the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts.
The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors and the Federation of Sportsmens Clubs have also voiced support for the plan.
The high cost of Bay-related cleanup actions has triggered criticism from local governments throughout the state's portion of the watershed, many of which are anticipating huge rate increases to fund required wastewater treatment plant upgrades.
Gov. Ed Rendell disappointed local governments, midstate lawmakers and Bay cleanup advocates when he did not propose any additional funding for wastewater treatment plants in the budget he proposed earlier this year and cut support for some key agricultural programs.
Meanwhile, scores of local governments in February joined in a suit challenging the state's authority to force nutrient reductions at wastewater treatment plants.
The new plan would provide state funding to cover half of the estimated $1 billion cost to upgrade wastewater plants.
"With no current state or federal funding available to offset those costs, it is imperative that Pennsylvania, like Maryland and Virginia, provide funding assistance to impacted communities," said John Brosious, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, which represents wastewater treatment plant operators.
The governor's budget also raised concerns because it reduced support for county conservation districts, which work closely with farmers to implement programs that reduce runoff. It also reduced funding for other key programs, such as the Nutrient Management Fund which helps farmers implement nutrient management plans.
The new initiative would restore those cuts and provide additional funding for agricultural conservation programs. "Without significant increases in state funding, farmers will have extreme financial difficulty in meeting their increased regulatory burdens in the future," said Joel Rotz, state governmental relations director with the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
The Fair Share plan also calls for overhauling the state's controversial nutrient trading program by creating a bank of verified nutrient credits from which wastewater treatment plants and developers could purchase nitrogen or phosphorus credits to meet, and maintain, permit limits.
Wastewater treatment plants operators and builders consider the current program, which leaves it to plant operators and others to negotiate trades, to be too unpredictable and risky to rely on.
"Our nutrient trading program is not the functional, robust trading system it must be," Ehrhart said. "This is critical to provide options for wastewater treatment facilities and essential to addressing future economic growth and development."
A spokesman for Rendell said the governor has appointed a task force to look at the need to to improve water quality infrastructure from Erie to Philadelphia, at an estimated cost of $20 billion. The report is due to Rendell on Oct. 1 and could help the state make decisions that will address problems in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and across the state.
Critics say that's too long to wait because no funds from those recommendations would be available before July 2009. Many treatment plants in the Bay watershed need upgrades in 2010 to comply with their permit requirements.