Wednesday, August 16, 2017

DEP/Ag: Successful First Year For Expanded Farm Inspections In Chesapeake Bay Watershed

The Department of Environmental Protection's Wednesday announced the expanded agricultural inspections program for clean water management in Pennsylvania's part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed not only exceeded federal expectations for number of acres inspected, but also found that a majority of farms are complying with state erosion and sediment control and manure management planning requirements.
The announcement was made at a joint information meeting held by the House and Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees during Penn State’s Ag Progress Days in Centre County.
"The addition of the new Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Inspection Program to our existing farm inspection programs has had strong results out of the starting gate," said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "While the focus is on-the-ground best practices, the goal is the conservation of natural resources. Much as Pennsylvania farmers need healthy land and livestock, our fishing and other commercial interests and our communities need clean water and healthy aquatic life.
"With every step we make toward meeting Pennsylvania’s goal of clean local water, we also benefit our partner jurisdictions in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed," he added.
Launched in July 2016, the Chesapeake Bay Agricultural Inspection Program complements the existing Act 38 Nutrient Management Program and other state farm inspection programs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initially required DEP to inspect 10 percent of farms in the 43 Pennsylvania counties in the Bay watershed. Given the variety of definitions what constitutes a farm, DEP determined a more accurate approach is to inspect acreage associated with agricultural use.
Approximately 3,093,000 acres are farmed in Pennsylvania’s section of the Bay Watershed. More than 12 percent of farmland was inspected in the first year of expanded inspections: 245,664 acres through the CBAIP and 147,762 through the Act 38 program.
CBAIP inspections showed that approximately 60 percent of farmers met their requirements to have manure management plans, erosion and sediment control plans, or both. DEP is pursuing enforcement actions on farmers not meeting their planning requirements.
As important, 80 percent of Act 38 regulated farms have met their requirements to have and implement nutrient management plans and erosion and sediment control plans.
Most inspections are performed by county conservation district staff trained by DEP.
Conservation district offices in 27 counties (roughly the same number as in 2016-2017) have applied for the training and funding to carry out inspections for 2017-2018: Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Cambria, Centre, Chester, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Cumberland, Fulton, Huntingdon, Indiana, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Perry, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Wyoming.
In Bradford, Cameron, Dauphin, Franklin, Juniata, Luzerne, Northumberland, Tioga, Union and York Counties, DEP staff will perform the inspections.
Brenda Shambaugh, Executive Director of the PA Association of Conservation Districts told the Committees. “If the inspected farm did not have a working manure management plan and an erosion and sedimentation plan, the conservation district assisted the farmer to develop and implement them. The goal of the inspections is to ensure farmers using BMPs are getting credit for the work they are doing.”
John Bell, Senior Government Affairs Counsel for the PA Farm Bureau said, “The gap between needed funding and available funding is huge. He also noted the economic challenges faced by farm families in keeping their farms viable, stating that they cannot afford to bear the full cost required to meet EPA’s time table.”
Despite concerns, several participants in the meeting indicated improved relations with EPA and a recognition by the agency of the unique challenges facing the Commonwealth and its farmers.
DEP also provides technical assistance and funding support to many farmers to create plans for their operations and install conservation best management practices.
The PA Agricultural Ombudsman Program provides educational outreach to the farming community on the importance of these practices and where to find help.
In addition to the inspections programs are the many conservation best management practices that farmers voluntarily implement, as shown in a 2016 Penn State farm survey.
"Penn State’s survey in 2016 confirmed what we already knew, that Pennsylvania farmers have voluntarily made significant investments to implement best management practices, often at their own expense,” said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “That’s good news for the environment and for agriculture. There is more work to do, but I am confident that farmers will continue to find new ways to protect both water and soil while improving the long-term viability of farms."
Pennsylvania is mandated by EPA to reduce nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment levels in waters in its Bay watershed counties by 2025.
While the Commonwealth has made significant progress toward meeting the EPA targets, particularly since launch of the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Strategy in January 2016, DEP said considerable work remains to be done.
For more information on Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts in Pennsylvania, visit DEP’s Chesapeake Bay Office webpage.
(Photo: Chesapeake Bay Journal: Inspectors Find Most PA Farms Trying To Comply With Conservation Regs, But Not All.)

EIA: As Pipeline Projects Are Completed, Appalachian Region Natural Gas Prices Are Rising

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported Wednesday natural gas prices in the Appalachian Region are increasing to meet the Henry Hub national benchmark price as more and more pipeline projects are completed.
EIA said through the first seven months of 2017, the difference between prices at the Henry Hub in Louisiana and at Dominion South in southwestern Pennsylvania averaged $0.53 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), about two-thirds the average difference of $0.76/MMBtu during the first seven months of 2016.
The differences between the Henry Hub and other Appalachian region price points followed similar trends.
While the average difference between natural gas prices at the Henry Hub and Appalachia have generally narrowed over the first 7 months of 2017 relative to the comparable year-ago period, the Appalachian region can become oversupplied at times when production exceeds pipeline capacity, driving producers in the region to lower their prices relative to Henry Hub.
As of July 31, the natural gas price at Dominion South in southeast Pennsylvania traded at $1.85/MMBtu, about $1.00/MMBtu lower than the natural gas price at Henry Hub.
Click Here to read the entire EIA report.

State Treasurer: General Fund Exhausts Full $750 Million Line Of Credit To Pay State Bills

State Treasurer Joe Torsella Wednesday announced the release to the General Fund of the full amount of a $750 million loan from Treasury’s Short Term Investment Pool (STIP) to pay the Commonwealth’s bills Torsella authorized on August 3.
He also said the General Assembly “should not be assumed that Treasury will continue to backstop the General Fund unless a responsible revenue package is enacted to balance the budget, or underlying financial conditions improve.”
“Today’s announcement regards the details of a troubling development: the Commonwealth’s need for a $750 million loan from Treasury’s STIP,” said Torsella. “This amount represents an unprecedented borrowing need this early in the fiscal year.”
The STIP loan was released in full to the General Fund on August 15. The Commonwealth has until August 23 to pay back the loan, at an interest rate of 85 basis points.
Treasurer Torsella also released a statement regarding future projections for the General Fund and Treasury’s position on short-term lending.
“While this short-term borrowing will be repaid by August 23, we forecast that without some action, the General Fund balance will again fall below zero by August 29th.
“Treasury continues to project a need for Commonwealth borrowing of as much as $3 billion to fund budgeted operations for approximately 2/3rd of the fiscal year. It is important for policymakers to understand that this is not a gradual decline in some distant future: the General Fund balance is projected to fall to $1.6 billion on or about September 15.
“Treasury’s Short Term Investment Pool is not a Rainy Day Fund; it is neither intended nor managed to be a back-stop to the General Fund. As an investment fund, it is governed by law mandating only ‘prudent’ investments.
“An overly concentrated loan by the Pool to the General Fund—at a time when the underlying budget is $2.2 billion out of balance, revenues are declining, and we are still without an enacted revenue package—would represent a substantial investment risk.
“We know of no historical precedent for an extended loan to the General Fund in a period without an enacted revenue package that is certified to cover expenses.
“To state the obvious, my fiduciary duty as Treasurer requires me to ask how the General Fund could pay back a loan when approved expenditures exceed expected revenues by $2.2 billion.
“Accordingly, it should not be assumed that Treasury will continue to backstop the General Fund unless a responsible revenue package is enacted to balance the budget, or underlying financial conditions improve,” said Torsella.
Gov. Wolf said earlier in the week his Office was working to avoid another credit downgrade from Standard and Poor’s credit rating service, something he said is likely to occur if the state’s budget issues are not resolved soon.
Wolf said House Republicans need to get back to Harrisburg and finish the budget.
As of Wednesday, there was no indication when House Republican leadership planned to bring members back into session, other than the already scheduled week of September 11.

ClearWater Conservancy Earns National Land Trust Accreditation

Since 1986, ClearWater Conservancy in Centre County has been conserving and protecting the places people love all around Central Pennsylvania. Now ClearWater Conservancy has been awarded renewal of its land trust accreditation from the national Land Trust Accreditation Commission.
Originally achieved in 2012 and now renewed through 2022, this accreditation award proves once again that, as part of a network of only 389 accredited land trusts across the nation, ClearWater is committed to professional excellence and to maintaining the public’s trust in its conservation work.
“Renewal of our accreditation demonstrates our ongoing commitment to permanent land conservation throughout Central Pennsylvania,” said Deb Nardone, executive director for the Conservancy. “This national recognition amplifies our dedication to making our local region a healthy and beautiful place for us and our children’s children. Through proactive protection of special places such as the Meyer and Everhart properties in the heart of State College, we will continue to uphold this commitment to our community.”
ClearWater Conservancy had to provide extensive documentation and undergo a rigorous comprehensive review of its policies, protocols and procedures as part of accreditation which must be renewed every five years.  
Nationwide almost 20 million acres of farms, forests and natural areas vital to healthy communities are now permanently conserved by an accredited land trust.
“It is exciting to recognize ClearWater Conservancy with this distinction,” said Tammara Van Ryn, executive director of the Land Trust Accreditation Commission. “Accredited land trusts are united behind strong ethical standards ensuring the places people love will be conserved forever. Accreditation recognizes ClearWater Conservancy has demonstrated sound finances, ethical conduct, responsible governance, and lasting stewardship.”
Since its formation in 1980, ClearWater Conservancy has made a lasting positive impact on the Central Pennsylvania through countless land conservation and stream restoration efforts targeting such  vital natural areas such as Rhoneymeade, Millbrook Marsh, the Musser Gap Greenway and The Barrens to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor.
In the spirit of an accredited land trust, the organization is currently working hard to raise the final funds needed to complete its most significant source water protection effort to date.
The Slab Cabin Run Initiative, named for the stream that flows through the property, aims to permanently conserve 300 acres of agricultural land located across the street from the State College Friends School and Foxdale Village along University Drive.  
The property lies in a vital portion of the Spring Creek Watershed, within the Source Water Protection Area for the Harter-Thomas wells which supply the majority of the drinking water to Centre Region residents.  
ClearWater Conservancy has raised $2.43 million, or 89 percent of the $2.75 million needed by September 30 to finalize the agreement with the owners, the Meyer and Everhart families of State College.
“We’re thankful to the Meyer and Everhart families for their generosity and desire to partner with ClearWater Conservancy in order permanently conserve their properties,” said Kevin Abbey, land conservation manager at ClearWater Conservancy.  “Landowners take on a huge responsibility when deciding who will care for their land generations from now. I believe the renewal of our national accreditation offers an added layer of trust and confidence when making those big decisions.”
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the ClearWater Conservancy website.
(Photo: Conservation Easement Steward Doug Wion leads the cows in during a rainstorm while on an easement monitoring visit to Nittany Farms.)

Brandywine Creek Greenway App Connects You To Over 100 Parks, Preserves In Chester, Delaware Counties

From biking to birding to trail hiking, plus fishing, boating, and more, the new Brandywine Creek Greenway app helps users find recreational activities in more than 100 publicly accessible parks and preserves in Chester and Delaware counties.
With the free app, users can find the closest park or preserve to their current location or filter by the type of activity they want to do, including sport fields, picnicking, and horseback riding.
From the Harvey Run Trail in Chadds Ford to the Struble Lake Recreation Area in Honey Brook, each of the dozens of municipal parks and private non-profit preserves has a brief description, photo gallery, GPS-enabled directions, tips and notes.
The app is currently available to download for both Apple and Android operating systems through the App Store and Google Play, or visit the Brandywine Conservancy App webpage.
The Brandywine Creek Greenway is a regional planning initiative of the Brandywine Conservancy, along with 25 municipal partners in Chester and Delaware counties along both branches of the Brandywine, to create a 30-mile conservation and recreation corridor.
It stretches from the Delaware state line just south of Chadds Ford to the Pennsylvania Highlands Mega-Greenway near Honey Brook.
Goals of the Greenway include protecting scenic, historic, and natural resources; educating communities about the Brandywine and its resources; and promoting recreational resources.
The greenway designation highlights the diverse resources of the corridor, and provides conservation ideas and encouragement to municipalities and private landowners alike. It also aims to build healthier, more sustainable communities that contribute to the well-being of those who live, work, and visit there.
For more information on programs, initiatives and upcoming events, visit the Brandywine Conservancy website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Conservancy (middle of the webpage.)  Visit the Conservancy’s Blog, Like the Conservancy on Facebook and Follow them on Instagram.

EHB Denies Permit Expanding Bailey Longwall Mine In Greene County At The Heart Of Legislative Debate To Change Law

The Environmental Hearing Board Tuesday ruled in favor of challenges brought by the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice saying a 2015 expansion permit (189) issued by DEP to the Bailey longwall coal mine in Greene County violates DEP’s trustee responsibilities under the Environmental Rights Amendment by allowing Consol Energy to “essentially destroy” Polen Run which flows into Ryerson Station State Park.  [EHB Docket No. 2014-072-B (Consolidated with 2014-083-B and 2015-051-B)]
While the damage to Polen Run was not prevented by this EHB decision because no supercedeas (temporary prohibition on mining) was issued to stop mining until the merits of the case could be heard, it sets a significant precedent for the future based in part on the June 20 PA Supreme Court ruling on the Environmental Rights Amendment.
At the same time the Board upheld the issuance of another expansion permit (180) for the same mine because “the Department gave proper consideration of the environmental effects of its permitting decision and the permit decision did not cause the unreasonable degradation or deterioration of the waters of the Commonwealth in the permit area.”
“We greatly appreciate all of the time that the Board spent on this matter,” Sarah Winner, who represented Center for Coalfield Justice and Sierra Club in the appeals, said. “The Board’s decision provides important clarification about the protections afforded to Pennsylvania streams in the context of longwall coal mining.”
The EHB concurred with two community groups, the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Sierra Club, that Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution does not allow the DEP to permit mining that is predicted to damage a stream so severely that the only way to “fix” the damage is to construct a new stream in its place.
“We’re thrilled that the EHB has agreed with us that it is illegal to allow a company to destroy streams for the sake of increasing profit. This ruling has put the industry and the DEP on notice that it must do a better job of developing mining plans to protect streams,” Veronica Coptis at the Center for Coalfield Justice said. “We are thankful to the hundreds of area residents who contributed to our successful efforts and remain committed to protecting the streams within Ryerson Station State Park.”  
"The EHB set a precedent today that it will protect streams throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. This is a victory for the rule of law and for local folks who have had to suffer the consequences of irresponsible mining practices for too long. Time and again mining companies have proven that putting a stream back together after breaking it is easier said than done,” Tom Schuster, Senior Campaign Representative for Pennsylvania at the Sierra Club said. “Now the industry will have to comply with the environmental laws and Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and prevent extensive damage in the first place. They can no longer sacrifice community resources for corporate greed.”
This was the EHB case at the heart of the successful effort in June to pass an amendment rolling back protection of streams in the Bituminous Mine Subsidence Act (Senate Bill 624 now Act 32) that Gov. Wolf allowed to become law without his signature.
Tuesday’s opinion notes both DEP and the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice argued this appeal must be decided on the law as it stood when the permit decision was made. DEP’s brief did not say whether Act 32 made any change in law, but noted the federal Office of Surface Mining had to approve or disapprove the law as a change to Pennsylvania’s mining program.
Consol argued OSM plays no role and said Act 32 did not represent a change to DEP’s approved mining program.
The EHB concluded, “We agree with the Department and CCJ/SC that Act 32 does constitute a change to the approved Pennsylvania mining program.  Consol’s argument that it is not a change is really based on its belief that Act 32 does not alter the review process used by DEP….   We reject that position….”
The Board added, “Act 32 is without question a change to a Pennsylvania law, the Mine Subsidence Act that is part of the approved Pennsylvania program. The impact of that change on the approved program is for OSM to determine, but we think there can be no question that Act 32 is a change to the law in Pennsylvania.”
Legislators supporting Senate Bill 624 consistently maintained, as Consol has, Act 32 is not a change in law or practice, which begs the question of why it was adopted and allowed to become law.
Tuesday’s decision can be appealed to Commonwealth Court.
Other Appeals Of Bailey Mine Permit Expansions
There are still other appeals of Bailey Mine permit expansions pending before the Environmental Hearing Board, notably EHB Docket No. 2016-155-B where the EHB issued a supersedeas to halt mining that may affect Kent Run also flowing into Ryerson Station State Park.
This appeal pointed to the damage Consol did to Polen Run as a part of the factual basis for the legal challenges made in this second case.
In this appeal, the Environmental Hearing Board dismissed a motion on July 28 by Consol/DEP to dismiss the Sierra Club and Center for Coalfield Justice appeal because it was moot with respect to Kent Run because Consol will not longwall mine beneath or within 100 feet of the stream, according to an agreement with DCNR.
On August 8 Consol submitted a motion asking the EHB to reconsider its decision not to declare the appeal moot.  That motion is pending.
(Photo: Dam at Ryerson Station State Park damaged beyond repair by the same Bailey Mine.)
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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Keep PA Beautiful: 4 Pittsburgh Men Cited For Illegal Dumping

Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful Tuesday announced four men from the Pittsburgh area have been cited for illegally dumping trash in Allegheny County.  
Brian Sindorf (37) of East McKeesport, and Eric Ruble (47) of Wilmerding were cited for Littering and Scattering Rubbish by Officer Michael Havens, Jr. of Allegheny County Police.  Sindorf was fined $296, Ruble was fined $445, while the other two men are awaiting summary trial.
Evidence photos from surveillance cameras led to four citations in May 2017.  The cameras were on loan to the borough by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, who offers a program to help confront and reduce illegal dumping throughout the state.  
The cameras are able to capture evidence of the dumping, as well as clear photos of license plates, even at night.  
“Illegal dumping is not only detrimental to the environment but also brings a financial burden to our local communities as they are often the ones left to clean up the mess,” explained Shannon Reiter, President of Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful.  Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful found that on average, it costs local communities $600/ton or nearly $3,000 for an average illegal dump cleanup.
If your community experiences illegal dumping issues, apply at KPB’s Surveillance Camera Loan Program or contact Enforcement Support Coordinator, Aaron Semasko by sending email to:  asemasko@keeppabeautiful.org  or call 877-772-3673 ext. 107.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful website. Click Here to become a member.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from KPB, Like them on Facebook, Follow on Twitter, Discover them on Pinterest and visit their YouTube Channel.
Also visit the Illegal Dump Free PA website for more ideas on how to clean up communities and keep them clean and KPB’s new Electronics Waste website.

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