Opinion - Boost Growing Greener Program With Shale Gas Money
By Andrew Health, Renew Growing Greener Coalition
As we confront the natural gas-drilling boom and its inevitable impacts on our shared environment, Pennsylvania can ill-afford to let funds run dry for Growing Greener.
For more than a decade, Pennsylvania's award-winning Growing Greener Program has successfully served to protect our water, keep our air clean and preserve our working farms and green open spaces. The program has invested millions of dollars in communities across the state, including projects to remediate abandoned mines, conserve farms and forestland, clean up streams and waterways, and enhance state and local parks.
But the success of Growing Greener extends well beyond its environmental accomplishments.
As the primary funding source for conservation, recreation and environmental efforts across the Commonwealth, Growing Greener has contributed and leveraged billions of dollars that support Pennsylvania's economy. When it comes to jobs, tax revenue, tourism dollars and cost savings, Growing Greener yields real economic benefits.
Which is why it makes little sense that funding for a program as successful as Growing Greener is being left by the Corbett administration and the Legislature to run dry.
Under the current budget, the tipping fees — fees to dump trash in Pennsylvania landfills — that pay for Growing Greener projects and grants have been diverted, causing funding to fall from an average of approximately $150 million per year for the last six years to $27.3 million this year. This is an 82 percent cut at a time when more investment is needed, not less.
Fortunately, there is an obvious solution: Impose a severance tax or impact fee on Marcellus Shale gas drilling — as is done in every other major gas-producing state — and allocate a portion to Growing Greener.
Despite what the industry and its lobbyists want us to believe, there is perhaps no greater risk to Pennsylvania's environment today than natural gas drilling. And when we put our environment at risk, we put our economy at risk.
Conversely, by protecting our environment through Growing Greener, we protect our economy.
As Gov. Corbett noted during his kayak trip through northeastern Pennsylvania last month, Pennsylvania's State Parks alone generate more than $928 million in local spending and support more than 12,000 local jobs. What the governor did not mention is that many of these state parks have received Growing Greener funding.
Growing Greener also is a powerful funding source for Pennsylvania's heritage areas. Spending by visitors to these areas generates more than $400 million in sales and contributes at least 6,000 jobs to our economy.
Moreover Growing Greener funds:
-- Help sustain Pennsylvania's agriculture industry by funding farmland preservation projects. Agriculture produces more than $45 billion annually and provides about one in seven jobs in Pennsylvania, making it our leading industry.
-- Reduce costs. Growing Greener has funded the cleanup of more than 16,000 acres of abandoned mines and in doing so has reduced water treatment costs locally and in downstream communities. Studies show that open space saves local governments and utilities millions of dollars in costs associated with drinking water filtration, air pollution removal and flood control.
-- Support the forest products industry. Growing Greener funds support forest conservation, which in turn helps sustain the resources on which the forest industry depends. This industry has sales in excess of $16 billion annually, a total impact of $27 billion and employs more than 80,000 people.
-- Bolster the tourism industry. Growing Greener funds have preserved 42,300 acres of natural areas and open spaces, many of which provide recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike. Outdoor enthusiasts spend more than $5.4 billion in the Commonwealth annually.
Unfortunately, gas drilling in Pennsylvania has the potential to negatively impact each of these critical areas. The construction of well pads, impoundments, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure, plus the actual drilling and fracturing of the wells, pose real threats to our environment.
Most anyone can realize that — because neither air nor water pollution respects municipal boundaries — the impact of drilling stretches beyond local communities and across the Commonwealth.
That is why requiring the industry to help mitigate its impact on our environment and natural resources makes sense.
Renewing funding for Growing Greener — in part through a tax or fee on Marcellus Shale gas drilling — is a wise investment in the long-term prosperity and future of our Commonwealth.
Andrew Health is Executive Director of the Renew Growing Greener Coalition, the Commonwealth's largest coalition of conservation, recreation and environmental organizations representing over 300 organizations and government entities.
To date, more than 225 organizations and groups have announced their support for renewing Growing Greener. In addition, at least 85 Pennsylvania municipalities and 22 counties, representing more than 5 million Pennsylvanians, have passed resolutions urging the Governor and Legislature to renew Growing Greener funding.
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