It is difficult to recall when the Pennsylvania Environmental Council – better known as PEC – first entered my awareness, but it’s been a while. OK, make that quite a while. Decades.
During that time I’ve attended their conferences that focused upon environmental issues and land- or water-use topics; participated in their outdoor-recreation development programs; gotten to know a number of their staff members; and received countless news releases articulating their positions on legislation and governmental actions – or lack of action.
What’s consistently impressed me is PEC’s measured, reasoned approach to everything. Even when wading into the most controversial of environmental issues – and there have been many here in Pennsylvania over the years – the organization’s approach has been passionate but balanced.
That is the “PEC Way,” according to Davitt Woodwell, PEC’s president.
“Throughout our history, we have never ‘taken sides’ based on ideology, but rather we’ve sought to find common ground in the most intractable environmental problems Pennsylvania has encountered.”
Davitt wrote those words for “PEC’s First 50,” an article in a special, 140-page publication commemorating the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s 50th Anniversary. For it was in January of 1970 that the organization received its nonprofit articles of incorporation.
Interestingly, PEC’s beginnings were rather adversarial. One of the group’s first actions was to file and win a lawsuit that established the right of a nonprofit citizens’ group to sue the federal government. Then for its first 15-20 years, it was a lobbying organization focusing upon environmental and conservation matters.
But starting in the late-1980s, PEC’s mission broadened to include on-the-ground projects and broader convenings such as annual environmental conferences as well as policy analysis and advocacy.
By the late 1990s, the organization’s policy work was shaping other activities in trail development, illegal dumpsite cleanup programs, stormwater management, reforestation and clean energy and in the new millennium, PEC has begun to concentrate on broader, place-based initiatives such as river conservation plans and water trails, greenway and recreation plans.
One example is the organization’s involvement in communities such as Johnstown, where it has worked with local leaders to turn a rust-belt town into an outdoor recreation destination with developments of mountain bike trails, whitewater paddling resources, the Pittsburgh-To-Harrisburg Main Line Canal Greenway, and the September 11th National Memorial Trail.
PEC currently is working with dozens of off-road, multi-use trail organizations in four states through an Industrial Heartland Trails Coalition with a goal of creating a connected network extending for more than 1,500 miles. Our region’s Trans Allegheny Trails are included.
Yet the organization hasn’t strayed from its advocacy roots. Over the past couple of decades it effectively has worked on behalf of the Growing Greener laws, industrial brownfield development and land recycling.
Discerning, during the early 2000s, that Pennsylvania’s carbon output would have ranked our state in the top 25 carbon-emitting nations of the world, PEC began to dedicate much of its time and resources to a “Climate Action Plan” for the state. Over the past decade, it has been active in Marcellus Shale matters, seeking ways to balance our state’s needs for economic growth with avoidance of environmental damage.
Yet throughout five decades of wading through some of Pennsylvania’s hottest-button issues, PEC has clung to “civility” as one of its core values. The organization’s tagline is “Conservation Through Cooperation.”
That helps to explain why the Pennsylvania Environmental Council enjoys good relationships with grassroots activists, politicians, watershed groups, extraction industries, government agencies and multinational corporations. PEC takes its positions only after studying the science, listening to all of the stakeholders and considering what’s best in the long-term for the state’s economy and communities.
Read for yourself what the Pennsylvania Environmental Council has been doing and considers to be its challenges for the future by visiting PecPa.org/PEC50. Think how refreshing it will be to read about a group that deals with controversial issues using civility and cooperation.