Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to safe water and preservation of the natural environment. This is a fundamental right, equal in constitutional status to rights regarding religion, free speech, and bearing arms. It is with this in mind that I’m encouraged that Governor Wolf’s executive budget (released February 4th) upholds Pennsylvania’s traditional state investments in projects that protect our water, conserve open space important to our communities, and enhance outdoor recreation.
The Governor’s budget keeps intact two special state funds dedicated to making long-lasting environmental improvements in communities.
The Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund, established in 1993 with nearly unanimous General Assembly support and overwhelming voter backing in a public referendum, will continue its extraordinarily effective investments. The Keystone Fund has invested in communities across the state with tangible results for quality of life: by providing funds to develop and improve parks and trails, to protect open spaces important to people and wildlife, and to restore libraries. In Monroe County, for example, the Keystone Fund has assisted numerous local efforts to protect green space along the Kittatinny Ridge and beside roadways, helped develop parks like Seven Pines in Paradise Township, and advanced the construction of the Pocono Greenway.
The Environmental Stewardship Fund (aka Growing Greener), established in 1999, will continue its tremendously successful support of tangible projects that protect and restore water quality, preserve farmland, and make other environmental improvements. The many local projects include streambank restoration of Paradise Creek and assistance to county conservation districts for watershed protection initiatives.
The Governor’s budget also constructively addresses a number of other environmental funding matters: proposing to recapitalize the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund with a $1/ton fee increase on disposing of waste in landfills; a capital program to remediate lead and asbestos threats; and funding badly needed positions at the Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
While I’m heartened by the Governor’s budget, this feeling is tempered by the awareness that there is a tremendous backlog of environmental infrastructure needs requiring the state’s attention and demanding much higher levels of investment:
- 19,000 miles of Pennsylvania rivers and streams are unsafe for drinking, swimming, fishing, and boating.
- State parks and forests require nearly $1 billion in repairs.
- More than 200,000 acres of abandoned mine lands and thousands of brownfield sites pollute our water and threaten human health and safety.
The list goes on.
Senators, Representatives, and the Governor need to recognize that these real challenges require action— whether that’s via the Governor’s Restore PA proposal or some other investment plan. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, they have an obligation to act. It is also, plain and simple, the right thing to do.
Andy Loza serves as executive director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, which is made up of 70 conservation organizations working across the Poconos and Pennsylvania.