Pennsylvania is facing one of its largest environmental crises, and it’s largely going unnoticed despite taxpayers spending billions with little results to show for it.
Six years ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency established a program to restore the Chesapeake Bay. Each state in the watershed was given nitrogen reduction goals to meet this effort or face penalties.
Pennsylvania was deemed responsible for half of all nitrogen runoff within the watershed with the livestock industry being a major contributor.
Six years later, Pennsylvania has spent $4 billion with almost nothing to show for it. Nitrogen levels have only been reduced by 6 percent, and Pennsylvania is in default of its Chesapeake Bay targets. While other states are being lauded for their performance, the EPA indicated in May it might have to step in to get the commonwealth back on track.
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This environmental crisis has also become a drain on taxpayers, who have little or no say in the process. That’s because the process is controlled by state bureaucrats and special interests. In controlling the cleanup process, they have bypassed less expensive solutions in favor of multimillion dollar treatment plan upgrades in communities across Pennsylvania.
Of the $4 billion spent, half has been at the expense of local homeowners and businesses through rate increases. Taxpayers lose at the expense of bond banks, lawyers and contractors.
It’s time for the Pennsylvania General Assembly to step in and start asking hard questions.
What makes this more egregious while Pennsylvania is really no closer to achieving its goals six years later, cleanup costs will likely require $15 billion in additional spending unless the legislature acts to change the process and provide oversight.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has proposed establishing 95,000 acres of forested riparian buffers in the Bay Watershed to capture nitrogen. But almost half of the nitrogen emitted by livestock is airborne ammonia, which bypass buffers.
Pennsylvania should consider point-source manure treatment technology, which is cost-effective and treats animal waste onsite literally as it leaves the animal and before it reaches the atmosphere or water. Developed in partnership between farmers and the private sector, these technologies can remove up to 85 percent of all nitrogen and these low cost verified nutrient reductions can be applied to the commonwealth’s EPA Bay mandate.
In 2013, the bipartisan state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee concluded that competitively bidding nutrient credits would lead to 80 percent reduction in bay cleanup costs for Pennsylvania taxpayers/ratepayers.
We certainly understand this is a complicated issue, but look at it this way: If any other government-run enterprise had wasted $4 billion in taxpayer funds and had no real results to show for it, taxpayers would be up in arms. Legislative hearings would be held; and hard questions would be asked.
That time has come because the price tag for Pennsylvania taxpayers is about to increase by billions of dollars.
Hon. Ed Schafer is a member of the Coalition for Affordable Bay Solutions. He was the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 2008-09 and governor of North Dakota from 1992-2000. He is also a director of Bion Environmental Technologies. For more information, see: http://affordablebay solutions.org.