Pennsylvania's Green Ribbon Commission to Attempt Rescue of Key Environmental Programs
Harrisburg, PA— Governor Edward G. Rendell’s three appointees to the state’s Green Ribbon Commission highlighted some of the critical environmental challenges and community needs facing Pennsylvania and outlined the investments necessary to rescue key environmental programs from financial turmoil, enhance residents’ quality of life and help the state win the competition to attract new business to the Commonwealth.
At the commission’s first meeting on the Governor’s Growing Greener II initiative, environmental protection secretary Kathleen McGinty, conservation and natural resources secretary Michael DiBerardinis and Rendell administration deputy chief of staff Roy Kienitz reiterated and underscored the serious challenges facing some of the states key environmental programs.
The state’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund, which helps to finance brownfield remediation, responses to toxic emergencies and the cleanup of contaminated sites, is heading toward a $12 million deficit. These estimates are for a program that operates on $50 million to $60 million a year. Because of this shortfall, emergency response contracts may have to be cancelled; remediation projects may have to stop; and/or the state’s highly successful brownfields program may have to be scaled back significantly sometime this fiscal year unless funding is provided to shore up the program. In addition, the state may have to notify the federal government that DEP is no longer in a position to meet its obligations under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly referred to as Superfund.
Secretary McGinty noted that DEP’s Growing Greener program is depleted in resources. Without the additional funding promised by the Governor’s plan, DEP has only $5.4 million in new watershed grant money to offer this year. This is down from a program that has offered nearly $40 million in watershed group support annually to fund programs that create or restore wetlands, restore stream buffer zones, eliminate causes of nonpoint source pollution, plug oil and gas wells, reclaim abandoned mine lands, and restore aquatic life to streams that were lifeless due to acid mine drainage.
The Recycling Fund, which had halted one grant program for nearly two years because of fiscal concerns, is severely depleted. Despite cost-saving measures, additional money is needed to support recycling programs that give more than 10 million Pennsylvanians access to recycling. An additional 42 municipalities are newly mandated to recycle as a result of the 2000 federal census.
During his February 3 budget address, Governor Rendell unveiled an $800 million bond initiative that builds on the success of the state’s Growing Greener program. His plan allocates $300 million for abandoned mine and river cleanups, remediation of polluted industrial sites and clean-energy development. Another $330 million goes to farmland preservation, conservation of open space, improving state parks and funding projects for the fish and game commissions. The initiative also uses $170 million for community parks, community redevelopment and housing.
The Governor also stepped up with a funding plan, proposing several pollution-related fees that would pay all debt service on the $800 million bond and finance other critical investments. The initiative proposes a $4 per ton disposal fee on residual waste, a $5 per ton fee on trash disposal and a $.15 per pound fee on toxic emissions.
These fees follow a tradition of many programs in Pennsylvania and at the national level where fees on industry support environmental programs. Moreover, because some of the fees are generated from trash disposed in landfills in Pennsylvania, and since much of that trash comes from out of state, a substantial amount of the cost will be borne by people and businesses from other states. Large amounts of municipal garbage are shipped into Pennsylvania from New York and New Jersey every year.
The General Assembly passed the original Growing Greener with widespread bipartisan support in 1999. The Governor’s plan expands and enhances that hallmark program. Growing Greener II is critical to Pennsylvania’s ability to take on many more of its most serious environmental issues. The legislature still must vote to put the funding for Growing Greener II on the ballot so voters can choose yes or no.