Pennsylvania Environmental Council turns 40!

PA's leading environmental organization marks four decades of acheivements
January 11, 2010
Press Releases

Harrisburg, Pa.  — The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), one of Pennsylvania’s oldest and most respected voices on environmental issues, today marked its 40th anniversary of service.

PEC was founded three months prior to the first Earth Day as part of a sweeping national environmental movement that dramatically changed environmental values, regulation and stewardship in America.

In its 40-year history, PEC has been a driving force behind a number of legislative, regulatory and public policy initiatives that have addressed some of the most challenging environmental problems in Pennsylvania. Better policies and projects that demonstrate how to deal with air and water quality, land use, watershed conservation, industrial brownfield development and climate change are among some of the organization’s most noteworthy achievements.

A summary of some of these accomplishments is attached.

“In 1970, the environmental movement was gaining momentum nationwide, with the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency and the celebration of the first Earth Day,” said Don Welsh, President and CEO of PEC.

“Pennsylvanians were at the forefront of that movement, tackling important issues in the Commonwealth such as air quality and river pollution. From a diverse group of leaders and activists, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council was formed on January 10, 1970,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council was chartered as a non-profit organization and served as a coordinating organization that businesses, government agencies, community and sportsmen’s groups, individuals and others could turn to for information about environmental issues and practical solutions to environmental challenges.

From humble beginnings with only 100 members and $200, PEC today consists of nearly 4,000 members, supporters and partners, with an operating budget of $4.9 million.

Among its early successes, PEC was instrumental in passing the 1971 Amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution guaranteeing citizens the right to clean air and water. PEC formed a coalition of 65 organizations and, at the time, engaged in the most potent environmental lobby ever assembled in Pennsylvania – ensuring the amendment’s passage by a 4 to 1 margin.

PEC continues this legacy today as it works to connect the people of Pennsylvania with land and water trails, helps municipalities manage stormwater and prevent flooding, and protects Pennsylvania’s natural and historic treasures.

PEC’s greatest achievements have resulted from its approach of fostering dialogue and consensus, dating from the first state-wide environmental conference that attracted 300 people in 1971 through the consensus-building process that developed the Climate Change Roadmap for Pennsylvania two years ago.

To mark its 40th anniversary, PEC will offer a number of special projects in addition to its ongoing policy and program work throughout 2010:

• History
As one of the oldest and most respected environmental organizations in Pennsylvania, PEC’s history is closely mirrored in the commonwealth’s environmental history. To celebrate the policies and projects that have made Pennsylvania a leader and innovator in environmental solutions, PEC will conduct interviews with key leaders over the past 40 years, and share those insights through web videos and online commentaries.

40 Under 40
Pennsylvania has a rich history of environmental leaders who have made the commonwealth a healthier, greener place to live, work and visit, and who have inspired others around the nation with their actions. As we look to the future, PEC will honor the next generation of environmental leaders – those who will shape the way we treat our land, air and water over the next several decades. The nomination process will be announced shortly, and winners will be honored at PEC’s 40th Anniversary celebration in September.

• Events
PEC is known for hosting the premier environmental events in Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre, as well as recreational opportunities and educational programming. PEC is planning an exciting lineup of events coming in 2010, culminating with a grand celebration of past, present and future in September.

• Photo Contest
PEC invites everyone across Pennsylvania to share in the celebration by photographing the environment that inspires them – from family recreation to scenic vistas to working farms. Photo contest details will be announced shortly.

Futures Campaign
To assure PEC’s ongoing success and to tackle the environmental challenges of the decades to come, PEC needs the support of all Pennsylvanians. By supporting PEC financially, individuals, businesses and other organizations can ensure an environmentally prosperous future for Pennsylvania. Donations to PEC can be made online.
For more information about PEC’s 40th anniversary celebration, visit www.pecpa.org/40.
A summary of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council’s most noteworthy accomplishments over the past 40 years is attached.

Summary of Accomplishments of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council

1970 – 2010

The big picture: PEC scored a major early victory for the environment in helping to get an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution adopted in 1971 guaranteeing residents’ right to clean air and water. Pennsylvania had no agency specifically charged with protecting the environment until – with strong support from PEC – the Department of Forests and Waters was expanded into the Department of Environmental Protection in 1971. In 1979, at PEC’s urging, Gov. Shapp vetoed legislation that would have prohibited state environmental regulations that were more strict than federal regulations. In 1983, PEC pushed for creation of the Citizens Advisory Council and the Environmental Quality Board to give more people a real voice in the issues. The state’s landmark 21st Century Environment Report released in 1998 reflected many of PEC’s concerns and priorities.

Creating dialogue to build consensus: Among PEC’s greatest achievements since its inception has been the dialogue it creates on environmental issues, dating from the first state-wide environmental conference, which attracted over 300 participants in 1971. In the 1980s, as a natural outgrowth of working toward consensus, PEC created a state-wide dispute-resolution center called PennACCORD. This tradition continued through the consensus-building process of developing the Climate Change Roadmap for Pennsylvania in 2007 and the Stormwater Listening sessions in 2008.

Water and watersheds: In its infancy in 1970, PEC was instrumental in getting legislative approval of the state’s Clean Streams Act, which was among the nation’s landmark environmental actions in 1970 aimed at making our waterways swimmable and fishable. PEC helped to defend that law for several years until the state Supreme Court finally upheld its applicability in 1973. From adoption of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1984 and the Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act in 1989 through the adoption of stormwater regulations and re-authorization of the Abandoned Mine Lands program that lets 30 percent of the funds address mine discharges in the past few years, PEC has been in the forefront of water policy development.

Protecting waterways: PEC’s long history of addressing pollution and conservation issues in our most vital waterways dates to 1971, when the organization petitioned to intervene before the state regulators to insist that raw sewage be addressed in Pine Creek – Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon. By the 1990s, PEC developed an estuary management plan for the Delaware and held the Pittsburgh Riverfront Development Conference. Soon, PEC formed the Allegheny Watershed Network, developed Watershed Conservation Plans for the North Branch Susquehanna River and other streams, and published the Pennsylvania Guide to Watershed Issues. PEC was instrumental in creating the French Creek Project in 1995 to conserve the most biologically diverse stream east of the Mississippi River. PEC’s water advocacy continues in part through the partnership it formed in 2008 with the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers.

Recreation and livable communities: PEC wrote the state’s Scenic Rivers Act, which was signed into law in 1972, and convened a task force on wild and scenic rives in 1975. The following year, PEC began a study of the Schuylkill River, which in 1979 was approved as a state’s first Scenic River based on PEC’s study. A decade later, PEC had added land trails as a focus, helping to launch a statewide Greenways Partnership initiative and helped write the Pennsylvania Greenways and Trails How-To Manual. PEC was a central player in forming the Susquehanna Greenways Partnership in 2001, about the same time it started work on developing greenways along the Delaware Riverfront. Water Trails are key to safe boating on unfamiliar streams, and PEC developed several of the early water trails along with workshops to help others develop them through the 2000s. PEC also helped to draft the Elm Street legislation in 2001 to support livable neighborhoods and continues to clean up illegal dumps through the Community Illegal Dumpsite Cleanup program.

Mining impacts: PEC advocated for passage of the state’s All Surface Mining Act in 1971 and was instrumental in passage of federal mining legislation when it helped to orchestrate national television coverage of a forum on the impacts of strip mines in 1974. In 1980, PEC worked to support state primacy over surface-mining regulations, and in 1982, testified on the need for adequate bonding to assure proper reclamation. PEC helped lead a four-year campaign that successfully advocated to extend the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund in 2007.

Waste management: PEC wrote part of the Solid Waste Management Act, which was passed in 1980, and from 1982 to 1985, supported a toll-free hotline through which people could get information about hazardous waste issues. PEC sponsored a series of roundtable discussions on municipal waste in 1986 and by 1987, began a multi-year project to support waste-minimization by industry. PEC’s current green enterprises initiatives include a focus on reducing waste in homes and businesses.

Smart growth and farmland protection: In 1973, PEC mobilized 60 groups on behalf of the Clean and Green amendment to the state Constitution, and a year later, helped pass the Farm and Forest Tax Assessment Act to reduce incentives for heirs to sell off large private land holdings. PEC supported amendments to strengthen the act in 1980. Long before the general public was thinking about the many impacts of unmanaged growth, PEC made this a seminar topic in 1987. By the early 1990s, PEC had created the GreenSpace Alliance to advocate for preserving open space, was sponsoring municipal programs on growth and “greening”, and had published the Guiding Growth handbook, which won a Pennsylvania Planning Association award. By the mid-90s, PEC was successfully advocating for a program to help re-use abandoned industrial lands, or “brownfields,” and was working to form a new land-use coalition that became 10,000 Friends. In the late ‘90s, PEC published a landmark report aimed at reducing sprawl impact through Transit Oriented Development.

Funding: Recognizing that grass-roots organizations can get more done at lower cost than government agencies working alone, PEC in 1993 helped to lead a get-out-the-vote campaign in support of the state referendum on a bond issue to support environmental, greenspace and recreation projects known as Key 93. As Key 93 funding declined, PEC helped lead the coalitions that supported passage of subsequent bond issues known as Growing Greener in 2001 and Growing Greener II in 2005.

Energy and climate change: PEC began seriously discussing climate change as early as 1997, when it featured a front-page article on the subject in a newsletter. PEC advocated for energy conservation, smart growth and renewable energy over the years, and its Commonwealth Community Energy Project through the early 2000s demonstrated how families can save money by saving energy. In 2006, PEC created its Energy and Climate Center of Excellence and convened financial experts and investors in conjunction with the state Treasurer, leading to creation of the Keystone Green Investment Fund. By 2007, with general consensus from business, academia, state agencies and environmental advocates, PEC developed the Climate Change Roadmap for Pennsylvania. PEC advocated for the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards that now require utilities to meet energy demands with certain percentages of renewable energy, and helped to develop the Carbon Management Action Group report that focused largely on potential to use state lands in 2008.

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