Column: PA Must Explore Better Ways to Meet Federal Clean Water Mandates

Pennsylvania’s approach to cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay watershed is a prime example of antiquated, dysfunctional government at its worst. The current program is riddled with conflicts of interest and sorely lacks transparency and accountability to taxpayers. The only interest group that is not represented in the existing Bay program is the taxpayer, and that needs to stop.

I have joined my colleagues in working over the past decade to make government more accountable to the people it serves. Changing the way we address federal clean water standards in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is the next step in providing a smarter, more efficient state government, while at the same time helping to protect drinking water sources for millions of Americans.

The current Chesapeake Bay cleanup program has evolved over several decades into a system that is designed to meet the status quo, even as the results have proven to be inadequate. Most of the money is spent on projects like expensive new stormwater management systems and inefficient riparian buffers that only address a small portion of the pollution in Pennsylvania’s waterways.

These projects certainly have some value in reducing sediment levels in our waterways, but these steps alone cannot be counted upon to solve the entire problem.

I have introduced legislation that will allow local governments to partner with the private sector to meet the clean water standards that are mandated by the federal government at a lower cost to taxpayers. My bill would divert a portion of the money that is currently dedicated to stormwater upgrades to create a new competitive bidding program that challenges private sector companies to use new technologies to reduce water pollution.

It is estimated that partnering with the private sector could ultimately reduce compliance costs by up to 80 percent. The program would also place the financial risk on the private sector, rather than asking taxpayers to pick up the tab.

We face an incredible challenge in meeting the federal government’s clean water standards in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and taxpayers deserve an approach that makes the best use of our existing resources. We need to make sure every penny is invested in strategies that provide the greatest benefit to our environment. That is exactly what my legislation is designed to do.

CONTACT:  Jeremy Shoemaker (717) 787-4651

FAST FACTS:

  • The Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources plans to install 95,000 acres of forest buffers.
  • A Chesapeake Bay Program Office (CBPO) projected that installing 80,000 acres of forest riparian buffers would reduce 4.9M lbs. of nitrogen to the Bay annually at an average projected cost of $1.62 per lb., although their Pennsylvania specific projected buffer costs are $4.62 per lb. of nitrogen annually.
  • Based upon the CBPO assumptions and omissions, the Coalition for Affordable Bay Solutions projects the annual cost per lb. of nitrogen reduction to the Bay to be greater than $30 – a cost more than six times greater than the CBPO estimate.
  • In addition, an interim report titled Assessment of Riparian Forest Buffers (https://vimeo.com/223303822) has concluded that the number and impact of variables makes it almost impossible to calculate the efficiency for nitrogen reductions from forest riparian buffers.