This fall, the Chesapeake region finds itself six years into a 10-year contract to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay sufficient to remove it from the EPA’s “dirty waters” list. While we may be seeing early signs of water quality improvements, no one disagrees that the region is woefully behind schedule.

In stark contrast, Pennsylvania’s legislature and executive office appear to be stepping up to the plate in an exemplary way. They have an opportunity to take real strides in improving local water quality and meeting nearly 40 percent of the commonwealth’s pollution reduction commitments in the Chesapeake 2000 agreement. Legislation under consideration there has the potential to reduce the nitrogen pollution to the Bay by an unprecedented 15 million pounds annually.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation applauds Pennsylvania’s innovative approach, fully supports this legislation and encourages the entire Bay community to get behind it.

Introduced as Senate Bill 1286 and House Bill 2878, the Resource Enhancement and Protection Act bill (REAP) will become a five-year, $450 million, transferable tax credit program enabling Pennsylvania farmers statewide to implement on-the-ground agricultural conservation practices. Those farmers whose income limits their ability to take advantage of tax credits will be able sell them to an individual or business that can benefit from tax breaks.

Alternatively, a business will be able to sponsor the installation of the agricultural conservation practices and use the tax credit directly, creating an opportunity for implementing these critical on-the-ground practices where farmers and landowners may not have sufficient investment capital to do so on their own.

Introduced by Sens. Noah Wenger and Michael Waugh and by Reps. Jerry Stern and Arthur Hershey, REAP has broad and growing bipartisan support in both Pennsylvania’s Senate and House.

This legislation is poised to achieve the biggest single pollution reduction in the history of the Bay cleanup efforts. In addition to benefits for the Chesapeake Bay, this legislation would become the largest water quality improvement program in Pennsylvania history. REAP will clean up thousands of miles of impaired streams statewide and provide cleaner drinking water supplies for Philadelphia and many other communities throughout PA.

REAP will also set the bar at a new high for the other Bay states as they work toward their Chesapeake 2000 goals. Further, REAP will strengthen the Executive Council’s position when it works with the United States Congress to use the 2007 federal Farm Bill to increase federal investments for conservation– and conservation-related programs consistent with the states’ Tributary Strategies.

In short, REAP has unparalleled local, state, regional, and even national, implications.

REAP is gathering a wide-ranging constituency because its benefits will not only be environmental. There are economic and recreational gains to be made through the passage of this legislation. Because the private sector will undertake the workload necessary to design and implement the conservation practices, REAP will create new jobs and assist in reducing the burden on Pennsylvania’s County Conservation Districts and other governmental employees.

REAP will also bring back trout fisheries and the associated tourism across the state.

Rarely has this region enjoyed such a “no-brainer.” The CBF is rolling up its sleeves, working to see REAP passed. Please join us!