“Our Constitution gives Pennsylvanians the right to clean air, to pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. We have a constitutional obligation to leave ‘Penn’s Woods’ better than we found them—and today we act decisively to fulfill it.” — Governor Tom Ridge at the signing of the original Growing Greener act, 12/15/99
Growing Greener began in 1999 when Governor Tom Ridge and legislative leaders agreed to commit $650 million over five years for investments in farmland preservation, conservation of open space, restoring and protecting Pennsylvania’s streams and rivers, improving and expanding state and local parks, and developing new trails and greenways.
In 2002, the General Assembly and Governor Mark Schweiker created the Environmental Stewardship Fund (ESF) to help fulfill the original Growing Greener commitment and to establish a permanent funding mechanism to carry the program’s success into the future. They provided the Environmental Stewardship Fund with a dedicated revenue source by increasing the fee charged for dumping trash in Pennsylvania landfills.
Governor Ed Rendell and the General Assembly, recognizing the need to accelerate the work of Growing Greener, decided to put a $625 million bond referendum question to the voters. In the 2005 primary election, 60% of voters approved the bond and Growing Greener II was established.
The $625 million was spread out over six years in the following manner:
- $230 million to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to clean up rivers and streams; take on serious environmental problems at abandoned mines and contaminated industrial sites; and finance the development and deployment of advanced energy projects.
- $217.5 million to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to preserve natural areas and open spaces; improve state parks; and enhance local recreational needs.
- $80 million to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) to protect working farms.
- $50 million to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to revitalize communities through investments in housing and mixed-use redevelopment projects.
- $27.5 million to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) to repair fish hatcheries and aging dams.
- $20 million to the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) for habitat-related facility upgrades and repairs.
Growing Greener II also restored funding in the short term for the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA) Fund, which was heading toward fiscal ruin. DEP stopped new public protection projects and triaged ongoing cleanups. Growing Greener II provided $50 million over two years to shore up the program.
The Growing Greener 2 County Environmental Initiative provided the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture $80 million for farmland preservation, greatly accelerating the rate of easement purchases . In 2006, $65 million was included in the state spending threshold; in 2007, $4 million was included; and $9 .52 million was made available to counties through block grants . The remaining $1 .48 million was to be used toward a future year’s spending threshold . All Growing Greener 2 funds have been spent or obligated.
Following the voters’ approval of the Growing Greener II bonds in 2005, the General Assembly and Governor enacted legislation that contained a provision providing an option for Growing Greener II debt service to be paid out of the Environmental Stewardship Fund, contrary to the normal practice of paying debt service out of general funds. In subsequent years, Governor Rendell proposed and signed budgets tapping the Environmental Stewardship Fund to pay debt service, diverting tens of millions of dollars each year from environmental conservation and restoration work that the Fund would have otherwise supported.
- Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (24.1%);
- Department of Environmental Protection (37.4%);
- Department of Agriculture (14.8%)
- Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (23.7%)
For over a decade, legislators, Governors and voters from both parties have recognized the value of investing in Pennsylvania’s land, water and communities. The success of the Growing Greener initiative proves that sustained funding enables our communities to make major improvements in our quality of life, environment and economy.