Funding for Growing Greener, the grant program responsible for protecting thousands of acres of green space across the state in the last decade, will run out Thursday; something environmental groups say cannot be allowed  lest we upset the already delicate balance between green space and thoughtful development.



Funding for Growing Greener, the grant program responsible for protecting thousands of acres of green space across the state in the last decade, will run out Thursday; something environmental groups say cannot be allowed  lest we upset the already delicate balance between green space and thoughtful development.

Begun under the Tom Ridge administration in 1999, $650 million in state funds were set aside for five years’ investments in working farm preservation, open space conservation, restoration and protection of streams and rivers, improving and expanding state and local parks and developing new trails and greenways.

In 2002, the Schweiker administration and the General Assembly created the Environmental Stewardship Fund to fill the program’s coffers in perpetuity by charging an extra fee for dumping trash in Commonwealth landfills.

In recognition of the need to expand and accelerate the hugely successful program, the Rendell administration and the General Assembly put a $625 million bond referendum before the voters in 2005. 60 percent approved the bond in the primary election that year, establishing Growing Greener II.

Unfortunately, legislators later decided to use the Environmental Stewardship Fund for debt service on the bond, drastically limiting the program’s ability to contribute to preservation of critical green spaces.

To date, the program has helped secure our food supply by preserving more than 33,700 acres of working farms in the state, protected more than 42,300 acres of threatened natural areas from development, helped with 234 community park projects and 132 state park and forest infrastructure projects, reduced flooding and water pollution through investment in 400 watershed protection projects and more than 100 drinking/wastewater improvements, restored more than 1,600 acres of abandoned mine land and put out $66 million to aid counties’ local environmental priorities.

The program has been undeniably successful, but with funding running out this year and much of it already going to debt service, advocates say something has to be done to save this program.

Right now, we are losing three times as much forest, wildlife habitat, farmland and other open spaces to development than is being conserved. There are 16,000 miles of rivers and streams in the state that are considered unusable, including 5,300 miles of “dead” streams caused by abandoned mines, which cover 189,000 acres in the state.

More than 2,000 working farmers are on the list to have their farm conservation projects funded, and 58 percent of our populace live in older communities with urgent investment needs such as  park rehabilitation, establishing trails, planting trees, managing stormwater, renovating waterfronts, redeveloping brownfields and preserving historic places.

Environmental groups such as the Wayne Conservation District are promoting local and county level resolutions in support of renewing Growing Greener funding. With contentious budget negotiations already underway in Harrisburg, it may not be easy to squeeze funding out of the Corbett administration  

To date, more than 220 organizations and groups have announced their support for renewing Growing Greener. In addition, more than 65 other municipalities and 22 counties — representing over 5 million Pennsylvanians — have passed resolutions in support of renewing funding for the program.

To lend your support to this effort, go to www.renewgrowinggreener.org to sign an online statement of support, and call your legislators, county commissioners and municipal officials to urge them to sign resolutions of support.