Charlton061218GrowingGreenerCo

SUBMITTED PHOTO State Rep. Alex Charlton, R-165 of Springfield, leads a Tuesday morning press conference at the capital asking for house leadership to bring forth two bills that would continue an environmental protection program called Growing Greener. Behind Charlton, from left, are Larry Williamson of the Growing Greener Coalition, Rep. Hal English, R-30 of Allegheny County, Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26 of Springfield and Rep. Rob Matzie, D-16, of Allegheny County.State Rep. Alex Charlton, R-165 of Springfield, leads a Tuesday morning press conference at the Capitol asking for House leadership to bring forth two bills that would continue an environmental protection program called Growing Greener. Behind Charlton, from left, are Larry Williamson of the Growing Greener Coalition, Rep. Hal English, R-30 of Allegheny County, Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26 of Springfield and Rep. Rob Matzie, D-16 of Allegheny County.

County lawmakers are asking their colleagues to pass a bill dedicated to preservation of natural resources and lands in the commonwealth.

State Rep. Alex Charlton, R-165 of Springfield, led a press conference at the Capitol Tuesday morning making a push for Senate Bill 799, which would create Growing Greener III, a program that has been enacted by the state approximately every 10 years since 1998 to help improve polluted waterways, open spaces and millions of acres of state parks and trails.

“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air, pure water and conservation of our natural resources,” said Charlton, “and scheduling a vote for Senate Bill 799 would reinvigorate Pennsylvania’s successful Growing Greener program and help secure those rights for our children and grandchildren.”

The bill, which passed the Senate in late January, has been sitting in the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee since then with no action.

House Bill 2485 is also looking to help with the Growing Greener III program as a companion piece to its Senate bill counterpart with over 100 sponsors on the bill. That bill was referred to the environmental resources and energy committee on Tuesday when the House reconvened.

House Natural Resources and Energy Committee Chair Rep. John Maher, R-40 of Allegheny County, said late Tuesday afternoon there was no plan for discussion on the bills “on the immediate horizon” in committee.

“The priorities in one corner of the state are different than in another corner of the state,” he said. “We’ll work through that process and, of course, there’s always the process of how do those who support this kind of progress … how do they propose to pay for it?”

Maher said that he was a supporter of Growing Greener I and II and any progress made for environmental remediation. He said there are environmental problems that outdate residents, including thousands of abandoned gas wells in Western Pennsylvania that are releasing methane all the time.

“These are complicated times for those who are concerned about the environment and for those who make a living to be the protectors (of the environment),” Maher said.

Rep. Hal English, R-30 of Allegheny County, who introduced the House bill, said there is so much the state has to offer to its residents by way of natural beauty.

“Getting outside and taking advantage of these wonderful precious resources here in the commonwealth is something that you can never recreate,” he said at the press conference. “We need to preserve it, protect it and work to start getting some funding to continue Growing Greener III.”

Since the program’s inception, use of one-time bonds were used to fund efforts that include has conserving more than 80,000 acres of threatened open space, restoring 1,600 acres of abandoned mine land, and reducing flooding and water pollution by way of 400 watershed protection projects among other noted environmental protections.

The money could be used for a growing open space debate in Charlton’s own district.

With another proposal slated on the over 200-acre tract of land that includes the former Don Guanella Village on Sproul Road in Broomall, there are plans to conserve 160 acres of it as recreational open space, but with no verified funding sources to buy that part of the land. Growing Greener III, Charlton said, would help for a project like this.

“At the state level there are limited funds for such an asset acquisition,” said Charlton about the land, which with a previous sale price of $47 million would be a costly endeavor for any one person or entity to try to buy. “This is the kind of money used in conjunction with municipal funds, county funds, private funds … this would help support that purchase.”

According to a co-sponsorship memo for HB2485 funding for the program has decreased from $200 million in the mid-’00s to $57 million in 2016. Charlton said over $300 million in projects have been proposed for Growing Greener III, but knowing the financial limitations for such an influx of cash, he and his colleagues have asked for a $50 million down payment to get it started, followed up with annual $50 million investments.

Support on the House bill and its intentions was met with bipartisanship support with local co-sponsors including Charlton, Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown, Rep. Greg Vitali, D-166 of Haverford, and Rep. Leanne Krueger-Braneky, D-161 of Swarthmore.

“If $50 million is proposed to start with it’s a good start,” said Krueger-Braneky, a member of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “The Pennsylvania Constitution protects clean air and water, so it’s fundamentally a public health issue.”

When asked about the house bill’s status in committee, she said given the 109 co-sponsors come from all regions and parties of the state there is enough “of a priority from all,” rebutting Maher’s comment.

Maher said work on the bill would continue over the summer in order to find a solution to guarantee at least 103 “yes” votes in the House and 26 in the Senate.

State Sen. Tom Killion, R-9 of Middletown, who voted for SB 799, is insisting on more action on the bills before the house committee.

“We hope that (Maher) and Speaker Mike Turzai recognizes the tremendous good that Growing Greener has done for all of Pennsylvania, and a singular opportunity now before us to bring these bills into fruition,” he said at the press conference.

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