A bipartisan group of Pennsylvania lawmakers are beginning a push to raise funds to address the state’s widespread water quality problems through a new fee on large water users.
The five Pennsylvania lawmakers on the Chesapeake Bay Commission — four Republicans and one Democrat — sent a letter Tuesday to their colleagues in the House and Senate outlining the need for a cleanup and advocating a possible remedy. The commission is an advisory panel made up of legislators from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
“Clean water is fundamental to public health and our economy,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, almost one quarter of Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers are not safe for either drinking, swimming, fishing or aquatic life.”
The letter accompanied a report, titled “Water Rich & Water Wise,” which lays out the extent of the state’s pollution woes and makes the case for levying a water use fee to fund the cleanup. Pennsylvania is lagging badly in fulfilling its obligations to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution afflicting the Chesapeake Bay, and many of its local rivers and streams are impaired by pollution as well.
The proposed fee — 1/100th of a cent per gallon on all withdrawals exceeding 10,000 gallons per day, and 1/10th of a cent per gallon for all consumptive uses of more than 10,000 gallons per day — would raise an estimated $245 million annually, proponents say.
The money would be distributed statewide to help with stream and river cleanups in the Susquehanna, Ohio, Gennesee, Delaware, Erie and Potomac watersheds.
Water fee legislation was first introduced last year by Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Franklin, and by Rep. Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. The measures have drawn support from legislative leaders, including Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
David Hess, a former secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection who is now a lobbyist in Harrisburg, suggested the lawmakers are “laying down a marker of sorts” by highlighting the need for water cleanup in advance of Gov. Tom Wolf’s budget address on Feb. 7.
There’s broad support for water cleanup across Pennsylvania, as seen in the widespread support garnered by the Growing Greener III legislation introduced late last year that laid out $315 million in annual investments needed to protect the state’s water, land and other natural resources.
The proposed water fee is likely to draw opposition from large commercial and industrial users. Advocates say they hope lawmakers will not be deterred.
“Any new fee is going to be difficult,” Hess said, “but Pennsylvania has done difficult things before.”
(This post earlier incorrectly tallied the number of Pennsylvania lawmakers on the commission. There are five. The Bay Journal regrets the error.)