October 21, 2019

PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo's House Democratic Policy Committee testimony

Testimony of Jacquelyn Bonomo

President & CEO, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)

Monday, October 21, 2019

10:00AM, 418 Main Capitol Building, Harrisburg


Chairman Sturla, Representative Daley, and Members of the House Democratic Policy Committee, I want to thank you for this opportunity to testify at this public hearing. I am the President and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization that currently represents more than sixty thousand members and supporters.

We strongly support adequate funding for our agencies tasked with environmental protection, responsible enforcement of environmental laws, and the advancement of new policies that protect public health and natural resources for our Commonwealth’s citizens today and into the future.

Pennsylvania’s Clean Water Crisis

Pennsylvania has long held the position of being home to some of the most beautiful streams, creeks, and rivers in the country, but the Commonwealth has an equally long history of environmental degradation and water quality challenges.

The need for protection and restoration of Pennsylvania’s waters is not a challenge unique to one watershed or basin: each corner of the state and the four watersheds that encompass them are affected by dirty water.

On a regular basis, the Great Lakes Basin has to deal with harmful algal blooms which are largely caused by agricultural runoff.

The waters of the Ohio River Basin have been heavily contaminated by legacy industries such as coal, oil and steel.  The Ohio basin and indeed he rest of our state now face emerging threats from the gas and petrochemical industries.  The ultimate environmental and human health tolls of these industries will be unknown for generations. 

Regarding the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including the Susquehanna and Potomac River Basins, Pennsylvania is poised to miss its EPA Phase III Watershed Implementation goals for 2025 for the reduction of phosphorus, nitrogen, and sedimentation, caused predominantly by non-point source agricultural and stormwater pollution. 

PennFuture has expressed concerns about these shortfalls but we also support the WIP in its current iteration moving quickly toward implementation, but that will not be possibly until this state comes to grips with the $324 million per year  it will cost to implement.

While the headwaters region of the Delaware River basin boasts some of the Commonwealth’s cleanest waters—most being  designated as High Quality and Exceptional Value streams—overdevelopment and impact from growth in the Poconos and other locales put clean water  - and the economies derived from it - at risk in the eastern portion of the state.

Clean Water in Pennsylvania can underpin further economic development and growth  - for industries like food processing, sustainable agriculture and beverage bottling - if it is abundant and available.  But through lack of funding, lax regulation and industry influence – we are putting that economic growth at risk.

In accordance with the federal Clean Water Act, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released its 2018 Integrated Water Quality report this summer.  This report finds that Pennsylvania is home to more than 85,000 miles of streams and rivers. What’s astonishing is this year’s report reveals that now nearly 43% of Pennsylvania’s waterways are impaired. Pennsylvanians rely on this water for drinking, recreation, fishing, and swimming, yet more than 37,000 miles are impaired. 

This is not acceptable, and real investment and attention from the Legislature can go a long way in addressing this problem. We need our state executive branch agencies and the General Assembly to take this seriously.

Best Management Practices Transform Local Impaired Waterways

Funding for conservation projects makes a real, tangible difference in the quality of Pennsylvania’s waterways. Implementation of best management practices, or BMPs, such as planting forested riparian buffers, installing streambank fencing, retrofitting impervious surfaces, modernizing barnyards, and creating bio-swales, makes significant impacts on the quality of our water and can accrue positive benefits to our major industries particularly agriculture, tourism and recreation.

A few examples of BMP success stories across the state include:

·        Brady & Warrior’s Mark Townships in Huntingdon County

o   Warrior’s Mark Run is a stream in Huntingdon County (classified as a high-quality cold-water fishery) that has been polluted by grazing cows from nearby farms; cow manure overloads the water with nutrients, disrupting aquatic ecosystems and killing fish and other animals. The Huntingdon County Conservation District was awarded $215,550 in March 2010 to implement agricultural best management practices in two watersheds. These watersheds were specifically identified as impaired by siltation from lack of grazing practices.  BMPs include cattle walkways, 10,000 feet of interior/exterior/streambank fencing, stream crossings, and spring developments, which restored a stretch of 2,331 feet of stream, protecting drinking water and aquatic habitat.

·        Borough of Ambler in Montgomery County

o   In December 2017, Ambler was awarded $206,100 for the Borough to implement stormwater management BMPs on public land. Ambler is using this money to install 75 rain gardens, 250 rain barrels, 250 downspout planters, 2,000 feet of riparian buffers, and stabilizing a slope to prevent erosion. This project is set to make significant improvements in the Borough economically and for clean water due to mitigating run-off.

·        Etna Borough in Allegheny County

o   In January 2015, Etna Borough was awarded $554,936 to construct urban stormwater controls incorporated in a Green Streets design. Scope of work included the reconstruction of streets/sidewalks, addition of areas of porous pavements, creation of a "rain park" or storm water infiltration site, underground storage of stormwater for slow release, and vegetated planting areas. The project addressed issues related to storm water control and also minimized storm water flow into a current combined sewer system. This installation of these BMPs focused on urban and residential non-point source pollution reduction, including tons of sedimentation and debris.

Legislative Threats & Opportunities

Keeping clean water clean, and investing in restoration of impaired waters makes economic sense for our state. But in recent years, these investments have fallen off dramatically and benefits made from Growing Greener I and II – are far off in our rear-view mirrors. We urge the General Assembly to pass legislation that:

·        Provides adequate funding for state resource agencies, such as the PA Department of Environmental Protection and the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, to do their jobs.

·        Establishes a dedicated fund for watershed restoration with a reliable, fixed funding mechanism.

·        Restores full-share funding to Pennsylvania’s interstate river basin commissions, such as the Great Lakes Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), and the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin Commission (ICPRB).

·        Empowers all classes of municipalities to reduce the impacts of stormwater runoff by enacting stormwater fees.

·        Sets standards and training expectations for fertilizer application.

·        Renews Growing Greener Program funding for the installation of best management practices for municipalities and non-governmental organizations doing the on-the-ground work via technical assistance and projects.

Further, the Legislature must guard against attempts to undermine water protection, enforcement, and regulations that are currently—and regularly—before the General Assembly, such as:

·        Senate Bill 619 (in House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee), which amends the state’s Clean Streams Law to narrow the definition of “pollution.”  As written, the new definition would not consider a spill or discharge to waters of the Commonwealth as pollution, if it does not cause a violation of a numeric surface water standard in Chapter 93. This redefinition also eliminates the need for the reporting of spills unless they are first determined by the polluter to meet this severely limited definition of pollution. 

·        House Bill 1635 (Senate Bill 790), which would roll-back clean water regulations for the conventional oil & gas drilling industry. This bill would promote the application of waste fluids from drilling on roads in Pennsylvania, jeopardizing the quality of our headwaters streams and, should one’s water be contaminated, the industry would not be required to replace drinking water meeting the Safe Drinking Water Act Standards.

·        The “Energize PA” package of bills (specifically, House Bills 1102, 1106, 1107), which subsidizes the oil, gas, and petrochemical industries to grow their plastics production in Pennsylvania; the Commonwealth would lose tens of millions of dollars, not to mention the rapid acceleration of output of greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to the rate of millions of tons per year. This package of bills would also undermine the DEP by peddling “deemed approval” language for permit applications if agency staff don’t take action in 30 days and set-up a new bureaucracy to review permits, risking thousands of DEP jobs, and virtually rubber-stamping permits.

Pennsylvanians Deserve Clean Water, Guaranteed by our State Constitution

On May 18, 1971, Pennsylvania’s voters by a four-to-one margin ratified what is now Article I, Section 27 of our state constitution–the Environmental Rights Amendment:

“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.”

Chairman Sturla, Representative Daley, and Members of the House Democratic Policy Committee, PennFuture wholeheartedly agrees with Pennsylvania’s own Environmental Rights Amendment and its supposition that all Pennsylvanians—no matter place, station, agency, or background—have a right to clean water. 

We stand ready and are eager to help the General Assembly advance clean water legislation, solve the funding shortages and move forward clean water funding, and fight back against dangerous attempts to weaken our precious resources. 

Thank you for your time and please continue to use us as a resource. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Jacquelyn Bonomo, President & CEO

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)