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Spotlight - Conservation Districts Hold Capitol Legislative Day to Push Initiatives

The Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts held a Capitol Legislative Day and luncheon this week in Harrisburg to focus attention on key legislative issues important to conservation districts across the Commonwealth.

Over 200 participants attended the event, including representatives from county conservation districts and members of the House and Senate. Gov. Rendell was the keynote speaker for a legislative luncheon.

Several legislative issues were discussed including the need to obtain consistent and sufficient funding for conservation district activities and staff, amendments to the Conservation District Law, and future renewable energy projects.

"These issues are vital to Pennsylvania's Conservation Districts," stated Larry Kehl, President of the PACD. "We spoke with our friends in the PA General Assembly explaining the importance of these legislative initiatives."

Susan Marquart, Executive Director of PACD, added, "The focus of our Capitol Day luncheon is to bring forth ideas and generate enthusiasm for our concerns. This successful event is an extension of an ongoing dialog between the conservation districts and our elected leaders."

Some of the legislative highlights included:

Funding for the Conservation Districts: A review of the Operation and Structure of County Conservation Districts released on June 7, 2005 by the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee concurs with the position of the Pennsylvania Association of Conservation Districts that Pennsylvania's conservation districts are under funded.

The study recommends that the state should pay 50 percent of the costs for certain conservation district staff positions. Additional funding is also necessary for the Nutrient Management Program that provides technical assistance through conservation districts for the responsible implementation of the Commonwealth's Nutrient and Odor Management Law. Adequate funding for this program is essential to the agricultural community and the public to ensure the viability and success of the program.

Amendments to the Conservation District Law: Conservation districts administer a wide array of delegated and contracted state programs with a number of funding sources. To update and strengthen Act 217, and continue to meet the conservation needs of the Commonwealth, two major enhancements were suggested as amendments to the Conservation District Law: increasing the capacity of conservation districts to deliver locally led conservation; and further defining and strengthening the State Conservation Commission. (Note: Senate Bill 1020 (Wonderling-R-Montgomery))

Dedicated Funding for the Conservation Districts: PACD is talking with members of the General Assembly and the Administration concerning dedicated funding for conservation districts. As was referenced above, the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report recommends that the PA General Assembly strive to meet the State Conservation Commission's policy of 50 percent funding for the district managers and technicians. Conservation districts are continuously undertaking more responsibilities and program implementation with less funding. By instituting a dedicated funding source, conservation districts will be guaranteed a funding base and Pennsylvania citizens will be guaranteed continuing technical assistance to further their land stewardship activities.

Energy Initiatives: PACD distributed a paper entitled, "Achieving Pennsylvania's Energy Independence Goals While Strengthening Conservation in Pennsylvania; The Critical Role of Pennsylvania's Conservation Districts." This report shows that conservation district technical services will be increasingly necessary as emphasis on bio-fuel production alters farm operations and the need for updated and improved conservation plans. PACD is recommending an additional $10 million allocation for the next five years to assist the Commonwealth in becoming a leader in renewable energy resources.

Speaking to conservation districts this week, Gov. Rendell agreed there will be environmental impacts associated with planting crops used to make biofuels saying, “Planting more corn and the increased farming activity associated with it has caused concern among some that our water quality will be impaired. We recognize these concerns, and have used our resources wisely to help farmers avoid practices that could have negative impacts on the environment.”

For more information, visit the PACD website.

Link: Gov. Rendell Touts Cellulosic Ethanol Technology


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