Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell recently warned regional lawmakers that his state would soon lag in environmental cleanup efforts unless legislative leaders this fall agree to put his Growing Greener II initiative on the spring primary ballot.
Until new funding is found for the program, “Pennsylvania is closed for business when it comes to protecting the environment and protecting our waterways,” the governor told the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which represents state legislatures, at its September meeting.
“Basically, Growing Greener has run out of money,” a development Rendell called “unconscionable” and would threaten a variety of important environmental programs.
For example, he noted that while Growing Greener provided $40 million in grants to help clean up watersheds last year, it will have only $5 million to $7 million for such grants this year.
Growing Greener II, an extension of former Gov. Tom Ridge’s popular Growing Greener environmental funding initiative, was the cornerstone of Rendell’s budget environmental proposals this year.
It called for using bonds to finance $800 million in environmental projects—including many that would benefit the Chesapeake Bay—over four years. Polls showed broad support for the bond issue, which Rendell wanted on the November ballot.
But Republican legislative leaders, including some of the state’s members of the commission, voiced concern about the proposal and blocked efforts to put it on the ballot.
Opponents had questioned the funding mechanism for the initiative, much of which would be paid by industries based on the generation of certain pollutants, and some were also wary of the state assuming any additional debt.
Rendell and legislative leaders have appointed a “Green Ribbon Commission” to try to develop a compromise plan, including different funding options, that might be placed on the spring primary ballot.
Rendell said he was open to alternative sources of funding for the program, but added, “there is no excuse for not acting and not putting Growing Greener on the ballot.”
On another issue that he said would benefit the Bay, Rendell called on legislators to support changes in the law that would make it easier for independent energy producers to connect to utility transmission lines. That would encourage the development of manure biodigesters and other alternative energy technologies.
Meanwhile, Rendell insisted that Pennsylvania is committed to the Bay restoration effort, noting that the state is closing loopholes in regulations on the manure that is applied to farmlands, and that Pennsylvania has the largest Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program in the nation.
The state-federal CREP program pays farmers to take environmentally sensitive lands out of production and convert them into forested buffers, wetlands or other uses that protect water quality. Pennsylvania’s program, which will eventually involve $400 million in state and federal spending, will cover 265,000 acres.
The state is also updating its nutrient management regulations to close loopholes that allowed manure to be placed on farmland that did not have nutrient management plans, and to require setbacks from streams where no manure may be applied. In addition, it is requiring that new nutrient management plans cover phosphorus as well as nitrogen.
“We are serious about doing our job, we are serious about protecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Rendell said.
Rendell is expected to become the next chairman of the Chesapeake Bay Executive Council, the top policy-making group for the Bay cleanup effort, when the council next meets, likely in December.