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PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania PennFuture Session Daze :: brief, informative, and interesting looks at public policy, especially in Pennsylvania

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Historic preservation tax credits now available

In June 2012, the Pennsylvania General Assembly finally enacted an historic preservation tax credit after a decade of hard work led by Preservation Pennsylvania. PennFuture was part of the coalition that helped pass this law.

This week, the fruits of our labor are now fully tangible with the announcement by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) that application forms and program guidelines for the tax credit are now available.

Act 85 of 2012 authorized $3 million of historic preservation tax credits for each fiscal year beginning July 1, 2013. The tax credit is open to all classes of individual, business and corporate taxpayers. Taxpayers who seek a tax credit for the rehabilitation of a qualified historic structure must apply to DCED for the tax credit and have their application and rehabilitation plan approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

PennFuture supported this effort because the experience of other states demonstrates that investing in the rehabilitation of historic buildings can play a vital role in the revitalization of older communities and the preservation of open space and working farmland.

For example, Virginia's Rehabilitation Tax Credit has spurred $1.5 billion in private investment, the rehabilitation of 1,200 buildings, and created more than 10,700 jobs according to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Investments in historic preservation can increase property values, retail activity and local tax revenue. State programs can boost heritage tourism efforts by preserving distinctive architecture and encouraging the development of bed and breakfasts and other businesses.

The rehabilitation of a single, large commercial building can become the "anchor" for successful revitalization efforts in some cities and towns. In other areas, the rehabilitation of individual properties can help create a critical mass that brings blocks and neighborhoods back to prosperity.

At $3 million annually, Pennsylvania has a small tax credit program but one that can be effective and expanded now that it is finally here.

Steve Stroman is the state policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Pa. Senate committee approves stormwater bill

Stormwater runoff is a widespread problem that can have a devastating impact on life, property and communities across Pennsylvania. Stormwater is also one of the most significant sources of pollution to our rivers and streams.

Thanks to the passage of Senator Ted Erickson's, R-Delaware, Pa. Senate Bill 351, which became Act 68 of 2013, local governments in Pennsylvania now have a new tool to address problems caused by flooding and polluted runoff. Act 68 allows municipalities, individually or jointly, to form stormwater authorities.

Stormwater authorities will allow communities to work together to address stormwater issues on a watershed basis. They could also provide a potential source of stable funding for stormwater projects and planning as municipalities work to fulfill their federal and state clean water obligations.

This week, the state Senate Local Government Committee unanimously approved another bill sponsored by Senator Erickson that will give these new stormwater authorities an option to promote cost-effective stormwater management.

Pa. Senate Bill 1255 would give stormwater authorities the option to establish a program to allow property owners to reduce any charges or fees by implementing and maintaining best stormwater management practices. These best management practices would reduce the contribution to flooding and polluted runoff from individual properties and provide an incentive for private stormwater management.

PennFuture appreciates the support of SB 1255 by state Senate Local Government Committee Chair John Eichelberger, R-Blair, and his quickly moving the bill. We now look forward to working with the full Senate to pass the bill.

Steve Stroman is state policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Citizen action is making the difference for wildlife in Harrisburg

Citizen engagement and action is, or should be, at the heart of our democracy. But many citizens are easily discouraged from civic engagement and action in an era when deep-pocketed interests all too often trump what is, or should be, in the public interest.

Great egret photo
courtesy of John Strawbridge.
This sense of discouragement can be aided and abetted by the busy lives so many of us lead at work and at home. It can seem both hard to help make a difference in public policy and find the time to even try.

However, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, never, ever, doubt the power of citizen action to make a huge difference on behalf of Pennsylvania’s environment.  

All one has to do is look at how the actions of thousands of citizens from across the state brought to a rapid halt House Bill 1576, a bill that would undermine the ability of our wildlife management agencies to protect the wildlife of Pennsylvania.

House Bill 1576 was scheduled for House floor votes last week. The bill had a powerful armada of extractive and corporate interests behind it, including the natural gas industry, coal industry, oil industry, large development interests and others. This armada had large stores of lobbyists throughout its fleet, and its ships had easy passage during its journey thanks to hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign contributions and free hospitality provided to legislators.

The conventional wisdom was that the HB 1576 armada could not be stopped in the House.

Supporters of the legislation thought they had at least 80 votes in the House Republican Caucus and at least 30 votes in the House Democratic Caucus, which would add up to smooth sailing in the 203-member House.

Now, thanks to the work of thousands of citizens from across Pennsylvania, the armada is now stalled and its sails are hanging limp. 

PennFuture has helped lead a diverse coalition of environmental, conservation, hunting, angling and recreation organizations opposed to HB 1576. This broad coalition has generated thousands of e-mails, phone calls, letters, office visits and letters to the editor across the Commonwealth. 

My experience is that when all these corners of the conservation community are in the same boat and paddling with determination, with indispensable help from citizens across our ranks, we can carry the day and even stop an armada.

Last Monday afternoon, legislative leaders started counting the votes for and against HB 1576. House Republican leaders were surely stunned to discover that less than half of their 110 members were willing to vote yes. House Democratic leaders found that there were perhaps only 13-15 firm yes votes in their caucus among their 93 members.

As a result, the House Republican leaders last week pulled HB 1576 from the list of bills to be voted and the legislation remained stalled and on the sidelines this week.

It is clear that support for the bill's provisions that weaken our ability to protect Pennsylvania's threatened and endangered species, and designate wild trout streams, has eroded thanks to the efforts of thousands of citizens and the work of many statewide organizations and local clubs and chapters.

Our efforts have been assisted by legislative supporters on both sides of the aisle. Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York has been an invaluable ally in the Republican Caucus all the way back to his passionate opposition to HB 1576 in the House Game & Fisheries Committee in November. House Republicans from southeastern Pennsylvania proved to be a strong and decisive bloc against the bill.

On the House Democratic side, we had a legion of strong opponents to the bill, led by Reps Greg Vitali, D-Delaware and Steve McCarter, D-Montgomery.

We know that the armada is now regrouping, so all who support conservation and wildlife need to be vigilant and keep working hard. If you have not yet urged your House member to oppose HB 1576, please do so. If you have, please be persistent and ask your friends to join the fight as well.

Citizens are making a huge difference in Harrisburg for the wildlife of Pennsylvania and the natural inheritance that we will leave for future generations of Penn's Woods. Thank you so much to everyone who has joined and will join the fight

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Help Pennsylvania's wildlife survive Harrisburg's March madness

Next week, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives returns to Harrisburg for three of days of voting session. Will the focus be on public education, the state's high unemployment rate or looming public pension crisis? No, the House is poised to spend most of the week considering a bill that would undermine the ability of our wildlife management agencies to protect the wildlife of Pennsylvania.

Yes, March madness is here a week before Selection Sunday for the NCAA basketball tournament. But this madness is not about office pools, hoopla and busted brackets. It is a deadly serious and irresponsible threat to the mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians of Pennsylvania and the natural inheritance we leave for the future generations of Penn's Woods.

House Bill 1576, written and pushed by the Marcellus shale, coal, oil and other industries, would make it much more difficult for the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission to protect state threatened and endangered species in Pennsylvania. The bill would also make it much more difficult for the Fish & Boat Commission to designate wild trout streams, a designation which affords stronger protections for our best headwater streams and wetlands. You can read more about the bill here.

HB 1576 is now slated for second consideration and amendment votes starting on Monday, and a final passage vote on Tuesday or Wednesday. House Democrats have filed nearly 90 amendments to the bill.

The Pennsylvania conservation and sportsmen's communities are united and passionate in their opposition to the bill. Seventeen conservation, environmental and recreation organizations signed one letter to the House urging opposition to HB 1576, and seven hunting and angling organizations signed another. Many organizations are marshaling their members to take action. You can help by responding to action alerts from PennFuture and other organizations, making phone calls and sending e-mails, and urging everyone you know to do the same.

We're hearing complaints from Republican House members from southeastern Pennsylvania that their leadership is walking them into an election year buzz saw, yet another gift to the Marcellus shale industry that has lavished many in the General Assembly with substantial campaign contributions.

Do you want scientists and wildlife management experts to decide whether wildlife species deserve special protection based on scientific data, numbers and the health of a population? Or do you want these decisions subject to political interference by the natural gas industry, the coal industry, the oil industry, big box builders or other developers?

The question is, or should be, absurd. Welcome to March madness, Harrisburg style.

You can help stop the insanity. Please stand up for wildlife and urge your state legislators to reject this attack on our wildlife professionals.

Steve Stroman is state policy director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Wildlife and clean water run through it

By Cindy Adams Dunn, PennFuture President & CEO

I was fortunate enough to grow up in an area teeming with wildlife and wild plants -- our rural home even had a small stream running through the property. When we were small, we were allowed to fish there, alone, long before we were allowed to walk downstream to the much larger creek. Some days we fished with real fishing rods, but many days we just “pretend” fished with a stick and string, or played in the water. I liked to watch the small trout in the pools as they cruised their small world in the dappled sunlight.


At that stage in my life, I never knew it was a headwaters trout stream, but I did know it was special. Over time, a road carved into the mountain upstream by developers changed the characteristics of the stream so that flood waters blew out the banks, carried silt and sediment and eventually, there we no trout – just minnows and crayfish.


More recently, I have learned to reconnect with that childhood fun by fishing in headwaters streams. A few years ago, my nephews and I crept up to the headwater pools in Laurel Hill Creek. Seeing the trout in their pool before they see you, and crawling through the brush, is part of the game. With hooks bent to avoid harming the fish, it is all about tricking the small trout to biting. It is a big adventure in a small creek for a small fish.


I know all too well what happens to these streams where there is upstream development or pollution. Even a single road or crossing can disrupt the delicate balance.


Pennsylvania House Bill 1576 has received a lot of attention because of its attack on the professional and scientific process of designating and protecting our state’s precious natural legacy. A who’s who of special interests is supporting the bill in order to ease the regulation of threatened and endangered species as well as Wild Trout Stream designations. The real driver of the bill is the natural gas industry, whose roads, pads and pipelines intersect with wetlands, headwaters and remote areas where threatened and endangered species are found. 

When the gas industry, or any interest, is planning a project, they are owed a timely and accurate answer on the potential impact of development on threatened and endangered species.


The three Pennsylvania agencies that regulate this process – the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Fish and Boat Commission and the Pennsylvania Game Commission -- have made great strides in updating data, mapping, and response time. The vast majority of the time, projects are unimpeded by the protection of a species, and the response time has improved substantially where there is a threatened or endangered species in the project area.These agencies are also in the process of updating the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity environmental review tool, which will make further enhancements to the process by which permit applicants can better review and plan their projects. 


But the real answer here is to support more scientists, more data, better tools and a serious conversation about how to improve the program. The answer is certainly not a bill that would strip away protection and put the bar too high for already overburdened scientists. These folks are already working plenty hard to protect and improve the natural inheritance we will leave to future inhabitants of Penn’s Woods who may choose to venture down to a clean stream in their midst.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

eBike legislation clears first hurdle in Pennsylvania General Assembly

This guest blog post was submitted by Adam Rossi of Adam Solar Rides in Bridgeville, Pa., just outside of Pittsburgh. Rossi is also involved with Adam Solar Resources, and is active with the Solar Unified Network of Western Pennsylvania (SUNWPA).

Everyone who rides an electric bike for the first time smiles, or at least everyone that I’ve ever seen try one. Some are huge ear to ear grins and out loud laughter, but always at least a smile.

Electric bicycles, or eBikes as I prefer to call them (aka pedal assist, electric assist, low-speed electric, or pedelec bikes), were invented in the late 1800s. It is only over the last few years that the technology has finally and eloquently caught up with the concept and vision. The sensation from a quality electric bike at the level and style of assist you choose is an amazing experience.
Adam Solar Rides Headquarters in Bridgeville, PA
Lithium ion batteries, often seamlessly integrated into the frame or seat post of an eBike, can store several hundred or even thousands of watt hours of energy. My current eBike has a 36 volt 10 amp hour battery, the energy equivalent of less than 1/100th of a gallon of gasoline and yet, it will power me for over 20 miles, maybe even over 40 miles between charges, depending on how hard or easy I pedal, with zero emissions, and last for over 20,000 miles of use. The stored battery power is blended with the normal human pedaling power through a hub or mid-drive motor using sensors that see wheel speed, cadence, and torque. It feels like a natural extension of your human power.

Try to imagine having +50 percent or even all the way to up to +300 percent of you. Superhero strength is another good analogy. That stubborn hill by your house that kept you from riding will feel like pedaling on flat ground. And you don’t have to sweat; you can wear your best clothes. You’ll instantly remember how much fun riding a bike is if it’s been awhile since your last time out.

Still, it's a fine line as to when an electric bicycle is no longer an electric bicycle; it can become something more with too much power and weight such as an electric motorcycle, an electric scooter, or an electric moped. That is why the Federal Government has guidelines and passed the federal
public law "107-319”. It defines an electric bicycle to be the same as a bicycle, as long as it has a motor rated at less than 750watts (1HP), has a top motor speed of less than 20 miles per hour, and has functional pedals.

The current bills in the Pennsylvania House (House Bill 213 sponsored by Rep. Seth Grove, R-York) and Pennsylvania Senate (SB997 by Sen. Matt Smith, D-Allegheny) mirror these requirements, and go a step farther in the interest of safety to also state that no one under 16 years old may operate an eBike, and that the “pedal cycle with electric assist” must weigh under 100 pounds. These bills will help to integrate eBikes into our culture by keeping them “bicycles,” as they should be, and not something bigger, heavier, or faster.

Last week brought great news as SB 997 was unanimously approved by the Senate Transportation Committee chaired by Senator John Rafferty, R-Montgomery.

No matter what is proposed and passed, all eBike riders should always be courteous and use good etiquette while riding anywhere.

Out of the billions of people who ride bikes everyday, there are millions of people, probably hundreds of millions, who already ride eBikes. This important clarifying legislation is needed for Pennsylvania, and fast, as the popularity and technology of eBikes only continues to grow. Please contact your state  representative and state senator today and ask them to support these bills.

Year of the Horse? Nah, 2014 is going to be the year of the eBike!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

House floor vote on bad species bill a challenge for broad conservation coalition

House Bill 1576 and Senate Bill 1047 are an unprecedented threat to the wildlife of Pennsylvania. These bills would undermine the ability of our wildlife management agencies to protect the mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and other creatures of the Commonwealth.

Late today, the House Republican leadership scheduled House Bill 1576 for floor votes during the week of March 10, when the House returns from its recess that started today.

The good news is that these bad proposals are now drawing unusually strong and unified opposition from a diverse range of conservation, environmental, hunting and angling organizations from across Pennsylvania.

Last week, 17 conservation and environmental organizations sent a joint letter to the Pennsylvania House and Pennsylvania Senate in opposition to HB 1576 and SB 1047.

This letter was signed by PennFuture; Sierra Club, Pennsylvania Chapter; Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Clean Water Action; PennEnvironment; Appalachian Mountain Club; Chesapeake Bay Foundation; The Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania Chapter; Audubon Pennsylvania; Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania; Keystone Trails Association; Pennsylvania Forest Coalition; American Rivers; Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association; Natural Lands Trust; Wildlands Conservancy; and Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

Earlier in January, seven Pennsylvania angling and hunting organizations sent a joint letter to the Pennsylvania House and Senate opposing HB 1576 and HB 1047.

This letter was signed by the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited; Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs; Pennsylvania Trappers Association; Pennsylvania Chapter, Quality Deer Management Association; Pennsylvania Chapter, National Wild Turkey Federation; Pennsylvania Chapter, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever; and the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

It is vital that legislators hear from constituents opposed to these bad bills prior to their return to Harrisburg.

Steve Stroman is State Policy Director for PennFuture and is based in Harrisburg.