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Opinion: Wolf and Wagner need to be specific in plans to help the environment

This blog post originally appeared in PennLive on May 30, 2018.

By Jan Jarrett

"The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people."

This coming Jan. 15, either Tom Wolf or Scott Wagner will raise his hand and take a binding oath to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Among the duties the next governor will be obliged to carry out under its provisions is the protection of our air and water and the natural beauty of the Commonwealth as required by the Constitution's Environmental Rights Amendment.

Between now and Election Day, Nov. 6, both candidates need to tell Pennsylvanians how they intend to fulfill that legal responsibility.

The primary season has not given us much of a preview of either of the candidates' environmental and conservation agendas.

Wagner's campaign website contains no mention of environmental policy except indirectly - he pledges to roll back "overregulation."

His trash hauling company, Penn Waste, has incurred fines from at least 30 violations of environmental regulations. He has publicly addressed climate change, attributing it to the earth moving ever closer to the sun and the increasing body heat from a growing population.

Environmental policy took a back seat during Governor Wolf's first term. There were a few bright spots.

In the politically complex forum of the Delaware River Basin Commission, Wolf voted with the governors of Delaware and New York in favor of a resolution to place a permanent ban on fracking in the Delaware watershed.

He also signed bipartisan legislation that will put the Pennsylvania solar industry on an equal competitive footing with solar businesses in other states, a welcome recognition of the economic development potential of the clean energy sector.

But neither candidate has laid out anything near a vision or plan for how he will protect Pennsylvania's air and water now; and what he can do to conserve our natural resources for our grandchildren. 

Other governors have achieved landmark conservation and environmental protections.

The late Gov. Robert P Casey Sr.'s administration successfully promoted one of the first significant investments in conservation with Key 93, a $100 million conservation bond and a permanent fund, the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, which gets its revenue from a portion of the real estate transfer tax.

Former Gov. Tom Ridge created Growing Greener, funded by a fee on garbage dumped at landfills, that provides grants to local organizations for conservation, watershed restoration and recreation projects

Ex-Gov. Ed Rendell signed the first legislation requiring energy suppliers to obtain 18 percent of their power from renewable and alternative energy supplies.

Rendell successfully campaigned for $625 Growing Greener II bond which was overwhelmingly approved by voters, and issued the $650 million Alternative Energy Investment bond, the largest bond for any purpose in state history.

The next governor faces a daunting list of environmental challenges.

The air in many parts of Pennsylvania is among the worse in the nation. We have thousands of miles of streams and rivers which do not support fish or provide clean drinking water.

The legacy of unregulated historic coal mining has left us with 180,000 acres of unproductive, dangerous and ugly polluted land that holds back economic development in coal communities. And Pennsylvania remains a major global source of the pollution that is disrupting the climate.

Neither Wolf nor Wagner will be able to adequately address these problems without a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that is fully staffed, adequately funded and independent of political pressure.

The Environmental Rights Amendment puts the responsibility of safeguarding our air, water and future environmental quality squarely at the doorstep of the Commonwealth.

The Department of Environmental Protection is the state agency charged with carrying out most of those responsibilities. 

The good news is that solutions to our environmental problems abound. Both candidates can find a comprehensive list of policy options in the Pennsylvania Common Conservation Agenda that contains ideas from 25 of the Commonwealth's environmental and conservation organizations.

Both candidates for governor will be bound by the Environmental Rights Amendment to protect our air and water and leave our grandchildren an environment that is at least as good as we now enjoy.

They owe the voters their plans for how they will carry out that duty.

Jan Jarrett, a former head of the environmental group, PennFuture, is the principal of Ad Hoc LLC. She writes from Harrisburg.

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