Pa. Coalition Proposes 'Fair Share' Funding Plan

The Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association (PMAA), Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Builders Association (PBA), Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts (PACD), and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) recently announced the Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan to help wastewater plant ratepayers and farmers finance improvements needed to address Chesapeake Bay and statewide water-quality mandates while preserving economic opportunity for future homeowners and businesses.

"For the first time, the five groups that have the most at stake in meeting the water quality mandates have put together a responsible funding plan that we hope will help end the controversy over how these projects should be paid for," said Matthew Ehrhart, CBF's executive director for Pennsylvania. "This is a comprehensive package that will enable Pennsylvania to meet our Chesapeake 2000 Agreement obligations, improve statewide water quality, secure vital funds to all county conservation districts, and provide for future economic development."

The Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Plan will invest $170 million in 2008 and 2009 in several ways to reduce the financial burden on ratepayers and farms: $100 million to help wastewater plants finance required improvements; $50 million in direct cost share aid to farmers to install conservation practices ($35 for REAP farm tax credits and $15 million in cost share grants); $10 million to county conservation district to expand technical assistance to farmers; and $10 million to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget in farm programs. It also proposes reforms to the state's nutrient credit trading program that will help to make it a viable alternative to provide for both environmental improvements to the Bay and sufficient future sewage capacity for new development.

In future years, the Fair Share Plan calls for similar investments to reduce costs for ratepayers and farmers.

This plan is the result of a unique partnership of groups with varying missions, but with similar interests and end goals who have worked together to develop solutions to a complex situation.

Representing a farming community of members across 63 counties, The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau acts on issues relating to farmland preservation, commodity pricing, tort reform, property tax reduction, health insurance reform, Sunday hunting, water rights, and wildlife management. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau supports the plan and the effort to enhance water quality through onsite agricultural improvements.

"Production agriculture is facing significant and potentially devastating economic burdens, said Joel Rotz, state governmental relations director for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. "Farmers are trying to comply with increased regulations recently imposed under revisions to federal and state regulations governing the handling and land application of manure and other nutrients, but they cannot do it alone."

The Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association and its members have been fighting for state and federal funding to help municipalities achieve required nutrient reductions at their facilities.

"Mandated nutrient reduction under the Chesapeake Bay Tributary Strategy for sewage treatment plants imposes a heavy financial burden on communities and ratepayers, said John Brosious, PMAA deputy director. "Upgrade costs for 184 impacted plants are estimated at $1 billion. With no current state or federal funding available to offset these costs it is imperative that Pennsylvania, like Maryland and Virginia, provide funding assistance to impacted communities."

The Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts oversees numerous programs directly tied to water quality, among other environmental concerns. Funding for districts has been substantially below levels needed to provide technical assistance to farmers implementing environmental projects, meaning that on-site programs and assistance for conservation efforts have suffered.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association represents 12,000-plus member-companies from across the state. PBA's 528,000 individual members include builders, remodelers, material suppliers, subcontractors, consultants, lending institutions, utilities and others involved in the housing industry.

With a PA state office in Harrisburg, CBF is dedicated to restoring the Chesapeake Bay and Pennsylvania's many rivers and streams. CBF works throughout the Chesapeake's 64,000-square-mile watershed to protect and restore the Bay with programs in environmental education, resource protection and restoration.