Bills Including Fair Share for Clean Water Plan See Action in Senate, House
Both the Senate and House took important, bipartisan steps this week to move or introduced legislation that contains elements of the PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan to provide financial relief for sewer system ratepayers and farmers under federal and state mandates to reduce nutrient discharges.
The Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 2 (Earll-R-Erie), the H20 Water Infrastructure Funding Program, that provides $800 million in gaming revenues to fund drinking water, wastewater, flood protection and dam repair projects. The bill includes a priority for wastewater systems facing mandates, like nutrient reductions, imposed after January 1, 2007.
Sen. Earll said many areas of the state, such as the sprawling Chesapeake Bay watershed, are under federal and state mandates to clean up their water and that should be a priority for state funding.
Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango) praised the Senate's passage of Senate Bill 2, saying the legislation includes at least $100 million for flood protection and mitigation projects, but does not include Gov. Rendell's call for a new tax on insurance premiums for home and business owners. Instead, Senate Bill 2 relies upon revenue currently dedicated to the Gaming Economic Development and Tourism Fund.
Under the leadership of Majority Chair Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Philadelphia), the House Appropriations Committee amended the General Fund budget bill-- House Bill 2380 (Evans-D-Philadelphia) – to include much of the funding for the Department of Agriculture as proposed in the Fair Share Plan and a $2.3 million increase for county conservation districts over the line items proposed by Gov. Rendell. (House Democrats’ amendment)
Back in the Senate, the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee unanimously reported out Senate Bill 1341 (Musto-D-Luzerne) after amending it to include a $400 million bond issue voter referendum for water, wastewater and stormwater projects, including specifically nutrient reduction projects needed to meet federal and state
"I am very pleased that the Committee took up this legislation and that it had bipartisan support,” said Sen. Musto. “If enacted into law and approved by the voters, the $400 million will go to improve drinking water and sewer systems throughout the Commonwealth. The funding is critical so that we can improve our clean water infrastructure and provide some assistance to ratepayers. This is particularly true in those communities that have problems with combined sewer overflows."
The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to consider this bill on June 16.
Sen. Roger Madigan (R-Bradford) has introduced Senate Bill 1449 that includes the recommendations of the Fair Share Plan for assisting farmers with nutrient reduction costs, including $10 million in funding for the Department of Agriculture, an increase in the Resource Enhancement and Protection Act (REAP) farm conservation tax credit to $35 million, a $10 million increase in conservation district funding and a new $15 million 50-50 cost share program to put farm conservation practices on the ground.
The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider this legislation on June 17.
Previously introduced House Bill 2441, sponsored by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Cumberland), includes many of the elements of the Fair Share Plan.
Related Story: Committees To Consider Fair Share Farmer, Wastewater Bills
Also this week, Senators Mike Brubaker (R-Lancaster) and Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) and Representatives Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster) and Art Hershey (R-Chester) invited House and Senate members to an exploratory meeting of a new Susquehanna Caucus to discuss issues of common concern in the watershed.
The primary topic of the meeting was federal and state nutrient mandates on wastewater system ratepayers and farmers and the PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan.
There are 18 members of the Senate and 68 members of the House whose districts are all or partly in the Susquehanna River Watershed.
Two additional infrastructure bills were introduced in the House this week, but they do not specifically address upgrades to wastewater treatment plants that are unrelated to economic development projects or benefit farmers. They include:
· House Bill 2621 (Evans-D-Philadelphia) establishes the Pipeline Replacement and Rehabilitation Program to fund improvements to natural gas, wastewater and drinking water pipes; and
· House Bill 2638 (McCall-D-Carbon) a $760 million infrastructure program administered by the Commonwealth Finance Agency for financing capital projects related to tourism development, independent institutions of higher education, hospital facilities, vital community assets (water, wastewater, et al) and economic development projects, funded with Gaming revenues.
The PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan would invest $170 million in 2008-09 in several ways to reduce the financial burden on ratepayers and farms:
· $100 million to help wastewater plants finance required improvements;
· $50 million in direct cost share aid to farmers to install conservation practices ($35 for REAP farm tax credits and $15 million in cost share grants);
· $10 million to county conservation district to expand technical assistance to farmers;
· $10 million to restore cuts to the Department of Agriculture budget in farm programs; and
· Proposes reforms to the state’s nutrient credit trading program that will help to make it a viable alternative to provide for both environmental improvements to the Bay and sufficient future sewage capacity for new development.
Over the course of seven years the Fair Share for Clean Water Plan will invest up to $890 million in upgrades to sewage treatment plants and agricultural practices for nutrient reduction efforts for the Chesapeake Bay and cleaning up streams statewide.
For more information on the PA Fair Share for Clean Water Plan, visit www.PaFairSharePlan.org .
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