Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell breezed into Wednesday's Ag Progress Days in the middle of a Government and Industry luncheon, gave his pitch and blew out as fast as he had arrived. Funding of conservation and environmental programs was not on his short list of talking points.
Instead, he targeted the need to secure the state's energy independence and make healthcare more affordable for working adults. "I applaud the continued role our agricultural industry is playing in helping to secure our state's energy independence through encouraging homegrown technology to take root," said Rendell.
He cited recent legislation that he signed into law to replace 1 billion gallons of transportation fuel used in Pennsylvania with domestically produced renewable fuels. The laws will help spur development of homegrown biofuels in Pennsylvania and reduce the state's dependence on foreign fuels by establishing new requirements that every gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel contain a percentage of cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel.
Earlier that morning...
Representatives of the Pennsylvania Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association, Pennsylvania Builders Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts, testified to the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee about the state's failure to fund conservation funding needs. "The coalition is calling for an increase in funding over the next five years of $25 million per year for the REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection Act of Pennsylvania) program and $15 million per year for a direct 50% cost-share program to give farmers incentives to implement programs that further improve water quality," says Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's Governmental Relations Director Joel Rotz.
An additional $10 million per year is being sought for county Conservation Districts to provide technical assistance and planning services to farmers to further reduce nutrient and sediment runoff into waterways. The state Department of Environmental Protection estimates it will cost $600 million for agriculture to meet water quality goals of the Bay Watershed.
"Despite the dramatic expansion of agriculture regulations over the past five years, fewer and fewer appropriation dollars are being committed each year to help farmers help themselves in meeting their environmental challenges and goals," adds Rotz.
The Fair Share for Clean Water Coalition helped win significant funding to upgrade sewage treatment plants in the last state budget to substantially limit the financial impact on many Pennsylvania water customers. Unfortunately, no budget money was earmarked to assist agriculture with its water quality mandates.
"Conservation districts deliver not just state conservation programs, but federal programs as well," said Susan F. Marquart, executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts. "The federal government has expanded the new Farm Bill to help farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed meet water quality mandates. It would be a shame if the higher conservation funding levels within the new Farm Bill are underutilized because there are too few technical people in the field to help farmers qualify for the very programs the federal government has expanded."
"While we're pleased that additional funding was approved for wastewater plant upgrades agricultural operations must also be given the technical and financial resources necessary to allow them to achieve compliance with clean water mandates," says John Brosious, deputy director for the Pennsylvania Municipal Authorities Association. "PMAA is a strong supporter of the REAP tax credit program and other farm conservation funding which provides incentives to farmers to implement best management practices and produce nutrient reduction credits."