As Pennsylvania’s executive and legislative branches of government are embroiled in a budget stalemate that lingers well beyond the June 30 deadline, the commonwealth remains significantly behind in its commitment to meeting its obligations for reducing water pollution in the central Pennsylvania counties that are part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
A promised “reboot” of pollution reduction efforts by the commonwealth has the Chesapeake Bay Foundation guardedly optimistic that water quality will rebound in the Keystone State.
Since 1983, Pennsylvania and the other Bay states have agreed five times to reduce pollution. It is unacceptable, then, that Pennsylvania’s nitrogen and sediment pollution reduction commitments from agriculture and urban runoff remain considerably off-track.
The most promising of those agreements came in 2010 when the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint was established. At that time, Pennsylvania and the other Bay signatories committed to specific actions, two-year incremental targets and a 2017 midterm mark. The commonwealth must greatly accelerate progress if it is to have 60 percent of pollution reduction practices in place by 2017 and 100 percent by 2025. Both are obligations of the Clean Water Blueprint.
The reboot will map out the commonwealth’s plan for acceleration.
Gov. Tom Wolf inherited this challenge when he took office in January, but the CBF has strong expectations that the new administration will enact the necessary reform to get the commonwealth back on track.
Among agency leaders, state Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding has acknowledged that a reboot is imperative. Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley reiterated the commonwealth’s commitment to accelerated efforts during his address to the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council this summer. His agency is responsible for the draft plan of the clean water reboot.
The DEP has stated that a reboot of Pennsylvania’s clean water efforts is imminent.
Three things are key if a reboot is to reinvigorate clean water efforts in the commonwealth: leadership, commitment and investment.
- Leadership. While Pennsylvania certainly has made progress since the mid-1980s, leadership by elected officials has been inconsistent. Renewed leadership will be necessary to bring sectors such as agriculture and urban communities into compliance with existing state clean water laws. Informal DEP estimates conclude that roughly 30 percent of the commonwealth’s farms are meeting such standards.
- Commitment. There is no simple solution. Meeting the commonwealth’s obligations requires the commitment to solve the problem from all pollutant source sectors and all levels of government. Historically, Pennsylvania has attempted to reach its Bay goals without localizing responsibilities. As a result, for many the effort has felt as far away as the Bay itself.
- Investment. Pennsylvania knows what needs to be done — decades of science and experience have led to the road map that is the Clean Water Blueprint. Investing existing resources where it makes the most sense and committing new resources to fully implement the blueprint will reap returns.
The CBF is asking for an immediate infusion of at least $20 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be invested in agricultural best management practices. Since 2008, the USDA has directed more than $255 million toward conservation practice implementation in the Susquehanna River Basin.
The CBF also believes that, in the revised plan for Pennsylvania, the legislature should provide more adequate funding by making a greater down payment in the second year of the Wolf administration, including efforts to ensure an accurate accounting of BMPs already in place.
The federal government has outlined a number of consequences should Pennsylvania continue to fall behind its clean water commitments. The EPA, for example, could require additional upgrades to sewage treatment plants or more urban/suburban pollution reduction.
Pennsylvania needs a reboot that gets the commonwealth back on track to meeting its clean water promise to its citizens and to people downstream. We look forward to a robust plan from Wolf and working with the legislature and administration in ensuring its implementation.
Clean water counts in Pennsylvania. It is a legacy worth leaving future generations.