“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 legislation on December 15, 1999
Growing Greener began in 1999 when Governor Tom Ridge and legislative leaders agreed to commit $650 million over five years for investments in preserving farmland, conserving open space, restoring water quality, promoting outdoor recreation, and revitalizing communities.
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.
Growing Greener II
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 among six state agencies (see Allocation). All Growing Greener II 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 ESF, contrary to the normal practice of paying debt service out of general funds. In subsequent years, Governor Rendell proposed and signed budgets tapping the ESF 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.
Per Act 13 of 2012, the ESF received transfers from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund of $20 million in 2013 and $35 million thereafter. The impact fee revenues for ESF are distributed to four state agencies (see Allocation).
For nearly two decades, legislators, governors, and voters from both parties have recognized the value of investing in Pennsylvania’s land, water, and communities. Sustained Growing Greener funding will enable communities to protect special places, boost their economies, and improve quality of life for their residents.