PEC at 50: Taking the Lead

February 3, 2020By: Pennsylvania Environmental Council
PEC Blog

This post is the second in a series recounting the history of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council on the occasion of PEC’s 50th anniversary. Read other stories here.


In just his second term in the state house, Rep. Franklin Kury wrote and fought for an amendment to the state constitution requiring the people’s right to clean air and water, a law now known as “Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment.”

Franklin Kury (photo: Amiran White)

“PEC and I worked together,” recalls Kury. “PEC, with a few other organizations, really told the public why this should be passed. So when we went to the ballot in 1971, we got a lot of help. Curt Winsor and PEC helped us. And the amendment passed the public referendum by a margin of four to one.”

“PEC did a good job of getting people together to get some consensus on what we needed to do to protect the environment,” he recalls.

But as PEC’s influence and reputation in Harrisburg grew, it remained steadfast to environmental solutions based on science, incorporating the long-term economic impacts of short-term actions, and the realities of the marketplace above politics. In all its actions PEC sought to translate science and the law into terms people could understand and apply to real-life situations to improve the quality of the environment for all. “Really, in those first 10 years, we were nonpartisan,” said Winsor. “We could walk into any office in Harrisburg and people might disagree with us, but we were respected.”

In 1971, Winsor, then PEC’s vice president, wrote a report entitled “A New Direction for the Future: A Department of Environmental Resources for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” This report served as a vision statement for the newly-formed department, the forerunner of today’s Department of Environmental Protection. The department’s first secretary was Maurice K. “Doc” Goddard, who was confirmed after a coalition of 20 environmen- tal groups led by PEC worked to bring about his confirmation.

Once the major environmental laws and regulations were in place in the mid-1980s it was time to move on to a new format for the organization.

In 1974, Eleanor Webster, now Winsor, left her environmental consulting firm to become the first full-time paid executive director. As a lobby, money was always a problem. In the late 1970s PEC formed a research arm, the Pennsylvania Environmental Research Foundation (PERF). Contributions to it were tax deductible and it conducted the research necessary to support PEC’s lobbying positions. Tom Dolan left his position as Executive Director of the Wissahickon Watershed Association to become its Executive Director. Once the major environmental laws and regulations were in place in the mid-1980s it was time to move on to a new format for the organization. With the departures of Eleanor Winsor and Tom Dolan, PEC and PERF were merged into a single entity.

Leadership Credentials

Susan Montgomery became PEC’s third president in 1986.

Each year, PEC held an environmental conference in different locations across Pennsylvania. Considered the preeminent forum on environmental policy in the Commonwealth, these annual conferences have attracted the participation of governors Shapp, Thornburgh, Casey, Wofford, Ridge, Rendell, and Wolf, along with state and federal regulators, and elected leaders. The objective was to share technical and scientific information in ways that led to better implementation and enforcement of environmental protection. Covering a wide range of topics and attended by hundreds of government, business, academic, and nonprofit officials, the PEC environmental conferences became one of the most critical forum in Pennsylvania’s conservation conversation.

PEC began its second decade with its 10th annual environmental conference on the topic of “Hazardous Waste: Everybody’s Worry.” Hazardous waste had been largely ignored in Pennsylvania until PEC identified it as a major problem. As a result of PEC’s work, Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh called hazardous waste “the single most serious environmental problem we face,” and praised PEC for “playing an important role in bringing together leaders of environmental groups, government and industry to find solutions to common environmental problems.”

Susan Montgomery, a Pittsburgh native who moved to Philadelphia, became PEC’s third president in 1986. Curtin Winsor became chairman of the board.

As a result of PEC’s work, Pennsylvania governor Dick Thornburgh called hazardous waste ‘the single most serious environmental problem we face’…

After 15 years, PEC was growing and in need of new center stage and became a real force in Harrisburg leadership. Longtime board member Joe Manko, a Philadelphia attorney, recalls convincing Joanne Denworth, a former judge on the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board, to leave her law practice and assume the duties of president and executive director at PEC.

“I met Joanne during a case where she was the trustee of a Superfund site,” says Mr. Manko, “and convinced her that she should become the new executive director.”

“Under Joanne’s leadership, we were able to get all kinds of foundation grants as a result of which our staff grew from two or three people to probably 20 people and we took on projects. She really grew what was initially a very fledgling operation.”

PEC President Joanne Denworth with then-governor Bob Casey in 1988

Denworth, a former administrative law judge with the Environmental Hearing Board of Pennsylvania, would lead PEC for the next 13 years and presided over some of its first major initiatives.

Under Ms. Denwoth’s leadership, PEC’s focus and role expanded to incorporate projects designed to demonstrate elements of the environmental policies PEC was advocating in Harrisburg, including water quality and land use. Her successors point to her tenure as president as the time when PEC stepped center stage and became a real force in Harrisburg and around the Commonwealth.

“I give Joanne Denworth a lot of credit for hiring critical staff people who had the ability to really build PEC’s knowledge base,” says Brian Hill, who Denworth hired to open and run PEC’s Western Pennsylvania office, and who would later become PEC’s sixth president.

Andrew McElwaine, Denworth’s immediate successor as president, says she raised PEC’s credibility as an established advocacy organization.

“Joanne professionalized PEC,” says Mr. McElwaine. “She organized it thematically in a coherent way and really created a more meaningful brand… creating an organization, getting the regional offices organized, and getting them run by capable people. I would give her all that credit.”

Under Denworth’s leadership, PEC stepped out onto the public policy stage and initiated a number of innovative programs that addressed critical environmental priorities and opportunities for Pennsylvania. But initially, it was PEC’s work in the policy arena that established its credentials as a powerful and important voice in the environmental community.

Ridley Creek State Park, 1998

Adapting to Changing Times

The 1990s ushered in a new era of environmental stewardship in Pennsylvania, marked by the most important piece of legislation since Article 1, Section 27, otherwise known the Environmental Rights Amendment, in 1971.

Growing Greener, a comprehensive portfolio of programs in environmental protection and stewardship, was a major legislative initiative created by Governor Tom Ridge and the General  Assembly. Twenty-five years later, Growing Greener remains the single largest investment of state funds in Pennsylvania’s history to address Pennsylvania’s critical environmental concerns of the 21st century. PEC was both a champion of the legislation and fought hard in the General Assembly to secure its passage.

Signed into law on Dec. 15, 1999, and reauthorized in June 2002, Growing Greener I and II represented a $1.5 billion investment in Pennsylvania’s natural resources and PEC played a major role in putting those investments to work around the state.

Several hundred farms that were in the path of development were preserved. Thousands of acres of natural lands were preserved, and an immense amount of nutrient pollution taken out of the rivers and streams… A lot of people got helped.

“It was all hands-on-deck effort,” recalls Andrew McElwaine, PEC president from 1999-2005. “We had only seven weeks until the primary election to get it done. We had no budget for it, no campaign apparatus, nothing, so we had to build that airplane while we were flying it, but it was a wonderful partnership.”

Andrew McElwaine, PEC president from 1999-2005

“Several hundred farms that were in the path of development were preserved. Thousands of acres of natural lands were preserved, and an immense amount of nutrient pollution taken out of the rivers and streams. We really put some state dollars to work doing some good things. A lot of people got helped.”

The early ‘90s were also marked by passage of the Pennsylvania Land Recycling Act, the first legislative initiative under Gov. Tom Ridge and a major achievement for both Pennsylvania and for PEC, who fought hard to build support and gain passage of the bill.

“There was a lot of work that went into that,” says Brian Hill, who was a PEC vice president at the time and PEC’s point person on Senate Bill 1. “It became a number one priority for a number of people in the state Senate and House, as well as for Governor Ridge.”

“PEC’s role was critical,” he adds. “I was involved, and so was Joanne, in testifying on those issues.”


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