Testimony on Renewing Growing Greener for the Pennsylvania House Democratic Policy Committee

David Masur, PennEnvironment Director
Last updated: 12/29/2011

Good afternoon. My name is David Masur, and I am the Director for PennEnvironment. PennEnvironment is a non-profit, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. I’d like to start out by thanking Rep. Gerber, Chairman Sturla and the members of the House Democratic Policy Committee for inviting me to testify today.

I hope that members of the legislature—and members of the House Democratic caucus—will do everything in their power this fall to ensure that the Growing Greener program is renewed with significant, dedicated funding to protect the places that make Pennsylvania great.

That’s because as we all know, Pennsylvania is defined by our natural, historical and cultural landscapes.

Yet, from the waterfalls of the Poconos, to the family farms in Amish country, to the historic sites of Valley Forge and Gettysburg, we’ve seen too many of our beloved landscapes threatened or lost.

Now the state’s most successful land and water conservation program—aptly named ‘Growing Greener’—is essentially out of money and set to expire. If the legislature doesn’t act quickly, we will lose this critical program, and along with it more of our precious landscapes.

Open spaces at risk

When we lose a family farm or open spaces, when we allow our streams and rivers to be degraded, we lose a piece of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage, culture and history. At the same time, development-driven pollution and traffic diminish our quality of life with more air and water pollution. Yet for far too long, the threats to Pennsylvania’s natural environment have been relentless

  •  In the Philadelphia area, one acre of open space is lost every 45 minutes to make room for sprawling new development.
  •  While Pennsylvania is blessed with 83,000 miles of rivers and streams, the state currently has 5,300 miles of dead streams and 16,000 miles of streams that are unsafe for    fishing or swimming.
  • Old coal mines are the number one source of water pollution in Pennsylvania, contaminating more than 5,500 miles of streams in Pennsylvania making far too many of our waterways unsafe for fishing, swimming or other recreational activity. If you lined up all these miles of polluted streams, they would stretch from Philadelphia to Las Vegas –and back.
  • More than 10 million Pennsylvanians get their tap water from these very streams and rivers—over 80% of the state’s population.
  • During a recent five-year period, more than 1 million acres of Pennsylvania’s family farmland, forests and open spaces were paved over for development—that’s one of the fastest rates of open space loss in the nation.

Growing Greener—A Legacy of Success

To protect our treasured open spaces, family farms, and pristine waterways—as well as to restore decades of environmental degradation, Pennsylvania established the conservation program known as Growing Greener in 1999.

The program has been so successful that in 2005, voters chose to renew Growing Greener through a statewide ballot initiative—by a nearly 2:1 margin.

It’s not surprising when you realize the program’s incredible successes:

  • In the program’s first five years, Growing Greener helped protect more than 500 miles of rivers and streams and 4,400 acres of wetlands, and saved 360 family farms.
  • Since 2006, Growing Greener has helped preserve nearly 34,000 acres of family farmland threatened by development.
  • In the last four years, Growing Greener has preserved more than 42,000 acres of threatened open space.

Urgency

With such a comprehensive track record of success, it’s shocking to think that Growing Greener is on its last breath and could essentially expire without action from the Pennsylvania legislature.

Funding for Growing Greener programs will drop from $200 million in 2007-2008 to $15 million as soon as 2012.  This is because of a double-whammy facing the program: Growing Greener II is coming to an end in 2011—and over 75 percent of Growing Greener I is being directed to pay off the debt service on Growing Greener II instead of going to protect our environment.

PennEnvironment has been working aggressively to educate the public about the risk facing the Growing Greener program and the need for immediate legislative action from their elected officials. In the past two months alone, through our statewide door-to-door canvass operations, we have talked with almost 65,000 Pennsylvanians about the threat posed to Growing Greener without legislative action. That’s talking with one in every 70 Pennsylvania households about Growing Greener’s importance. At the same time, we’ve left educational materials about Growing Greener possibly being wiped out to over 110,0000 people in the Commonwealth, and collected more than 10,000 postcards from constituents to local state representatives and senators. I can tell you firsthand from our door-to-door conversations from Pennsylvanians of every walk of life—Democrats, Republicans and Independents; urban, suburban and rural; young and old—that there is overwhelming support for renewing Growing Greener.

With that in mind, PennEnvironment calls on the legislature to implement the following:

  • Renewing the Growing Greener program at a level of $200 million annually;
  • Coming up with a dedicated and sustainable funding source for Growing Greener. The environmental community has offered a number of potential options including dedicating part of the natural gas severance tax towards renewing Growing Greener;
  • Stop the diversion of funds from Growing Greener I (the Environmental Stewardship Fund as it’s called in Harrisburg) to pay off the Growing Greener II debt. This is robbing Peter to pay Paul, and only hurting the Commonwealth’s efforts to protect the most threatened parts of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage.

The time to act is now. We have an obligation to protect Pennsylvania’s great natural heritage—now, for our kids and for future generations of Pennsylvanians. It is for this reason that I call on the legislature to do everything in its power to renew this program as quickly as possible.

For years, Growing Greener has protected the places that make Pennsylvania great. Now we have an obligation to protect Growing Greener.

In closing, I again want to thank Rep. Gerber and Chairman Sturla for inviting me to today’s policy committee hearing. I look forward to working with you all on this important issue.