The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has long recognized that one of the United States’ greatest natural resources is the Chesapeake Bay. That’s why many Pennsylvanians will find the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s “2001 State of the Bay” report to be troubling.
As a former chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, I can attest to the fact that our state has shown initiative in regional efforts to clean up the Bay.
Some might say that we’ve even led our partner states of Virginia and Maryland in certain ways. As is often stated, Pennsylvania contributes more than 50 percent of the freshwater to the Bay. So what we do here is of major significance.
In 1989, the General Assembly enacted legislation that banned the sale of phosphate detergents. I was proud to be a prime sponsor of this law. It has helped to reduce the amount of phosphorus that our state’s waterways bleed into the Bay by placing a ban on the sale of certain cleaning agents that contain that nutrient.
Pennsylvania also led the way by enacting a statewide Nutrient Management Law in 1993. This law, the first in the Chesapeake watershed, gave farmers certain targets and incentives to adopt and implement plans to reduce nonpoint source nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Today, almost 1,000 of our largest and most progressive farms have adopted these plans.
As the prime sponsor of that law, I’ve learned that some believe the Nutrient Management Law was well written but poorly executed. I think it’s time to take a good look at the implementation of the law, if not the statute itself.
Our farmland preservation program, now the largest in the nation, has saved about 200,000 acres of prime farmland, much of it in the Bay watershed.
Experts have long noted that efforts to reduce the devastating effect of unchecked urban sprawl are surely beneficial to the Bay.
Still, there are more than 1,500 farms on our agricultural conservation easement list. Most of them are in the heart of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Demand has far exceeded the funding for this program.
Gov. Thomas Ridge opposed a new bond issue, as advocated by Democrat and Republican members of the House. Perhaps Gov. Mark Schweiker will demonstrate some leadership on this issue.
We can do more to support the State Conservation Commission and local conservation district staff who must bear the administrative burden of implementing the act. Better and more frequent monitoring at the local level would be a big help.
We should applaud and support the use of new technology and new ideas in agriculture. For instance, Wenger Feeds of Rheems, PA has introduced phytase into its poultry feed products. Developed in the Netherlands, it dramatically reduces nutrients in poultry waste.
I appreciate the chance to call for a renewed, bipartisan effort to address the problems facing the restoration of the Bay.
As Jolene Chinchilli, the Pennsylvania director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said, the technology is there; what is needed is the collective will and funding to make it happen.
With a new person in the Governor’s Residence, and a new administration on the horizon, this seems like a good time to get moving.