HARRISBURG, Pa. — Growing Greener has been funding watershed restoration projects for 20 years, since Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge signed a bill establishing it at $650 million over five years. Sadly, in 2019, the Growing Greener Coalition reported that funding for Growing Greener’s Environmental Stewardship Fund (ESF) had decreased by 75 percent, from an average of $200 million per year since the mid-2000’s, to about $60 million in 2016.
We appreciate the newest round of Growing Greener investments and that legislators chose not to raid the Environmental Stewardship Fund last fall, when looking for funds to plug a multi-billion budget gap. The ESF is the source for much of these Growing Greener grants. Monies also came from the federal Acid Mine Drainage Set Aside and Surface Mining Conservation and Reclamation Act Bond Forfeitures.
Efforts to reduce pollution in Pennsylvania rivers and streams could use a boost. The Commonwealth is significantly behind in meeting its clean water commitments, more than 25,000 miles of waterways are damaged by pollution and catching up will cost at least an additional $320 million a year.
CBF’s recent State of the Bay report indicates that despite several years of assaults to environmental protections and flagging political will, most water quality measures are showing improvements.
Still, must more needs to be done, especially in our beloved Keystone State.
Six million dollars in Growing Greener grants are going to projects in Lancaster County.
With its Growing Greener grant, West Hempfield Township in Lancaster County will work on its stormwater basin, stabilize streambanks, and plant more forest buffers.
Another Growing Greener grant will provide more roofed, concrete barnyards, manure storage, animal walkways, watering systems, and fencing at local farms in Montour County, in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Not to be overlooked is the critical fact that these grants are growing greener bank accounts as investments in local jobs and economies.
Land surveyors, appraisers, scientists, engineers, planners, drafters, hydrologists, geologists, and agricultural consultants who have families to feed will benefit from these 149 local projects.
Let’s not forget the plant nurseries, architects, landscape architects, landscapers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, painters, roofing contractors, fencing installers, paving contractors, material delivery, archaeologists, and arborists who have bills to pay. Some businesses may even add jobs.
Growing Greener funds support projects on Pennsylvania’s more than 55,000 family farms. Each year, the agricultural industry in the Commonwealth contributes to 579,000 jobs, $26.9 billion in earnings, and $135.7 billion in total output. That is according to a 2019 report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
In November, the DEP announced it was providing over $6 million in ESF grants to eight counties to support their participation in Pennsylvania’s Chesapeake Bay Phase 3 Watershed Implementation Plan to reduce pollution and meet obligations to improve water quality locally and in the Chesapeake Bay.
The ESF and the Keystone Fund also enhance outdoor recreational opportunities while investing in projects that restore and protect Pennsylvania’s environment.
A report prepared for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said more than 390,000 jobs were supported by outdoor recreation activities in Pennsylvania in 2016. The report found that collectively, the economic contributions generated by outdoor recreation in the Commonwealth accounted for almost $17 billion in salaries and wages paid to employees and over $300 million in federal, state, and local tax revenue.
Clearly, investments from the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Growing Greener are a win-win for local water quality, those who make it happen on the ground, and natural resources we all share.
Here’s to more of the same in 2021. Don’t we deserve it?
Shannon Gority is PA executive director, Chesapeake Bay Foundation
–Shannon Gority, Chesapeake Bay Foundation