By R. John Dawes
Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds Executive Director
Pennsylvania House leaders have an opportunity to honor and advance the constitutional right of Pennsylvanians to clean air, pure water and the conservation of our public resources by scheduling a vote on Senate Bill 799, which, if appropriately funded, would reinvigorate the state’s successful Growing Greener program.
In 1999, the General Assembly passed the first Growing Greener program. This and subsequent initiatives have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in projects to restore polluted waterways, protect water supplies, conserve productive farmland and open space important to communities, improve community and state parks and forests and trails and other advancements.
While these investments have been tremendously effective and successful, new challenges threaten Pennsylvania’s natural resources. SB 799, if coupled with new state funding commitments to Growing Greener, would address these challenges. A renewed Growing Greener would deliver real, tangible, and lasting benefits to all Pennsylvanians.
Growing Greener has and will continue to empower our communities to address critical environmental priorities in three key areas:
- Conserving land and water resources.
- Restoring damaged waterways and land.
- Creating prosperous and sustainable communities.
More than $300 million in annual Growing Greener project investments have been identified as needed to address Pennsylvania’s needs for environmental restoration and conservation. Although this number may not be attainable now, the General Assembly could make a reasonable down payment by committing $50 million more to Growing Greener annually — less than $4 for every resident of the commonwealth.
In making this down payment, the General Assembly would also leverage federal matching dollars, which Pennsylvania otherwise would miss out on.
The bill passed the Senate by a 47-2 vote at the end of January and now sits in the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee chaired by Rep. John Maher. A companion to SB 799 in the General Assembly’s lower chamber has 109 sponsors representing more than one-half of the body’s 203 members.
Maher enjoys complete discretion over what legislation his committee considers. We hope that he and House Speaker Mike Turzai recognize the tremendous good that Growing Greener has done for Pennsylvania. They can lead the General Assembly in injecting new life into Growing Greener and do their part to uphold our state constitution, which affirms that Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.
This op-ed was published in The Times–Tribune on June 14. View it here.