PA Voters Support Funds for Environment

Harrisburg, PA, 4/29/02 — A statewide poll released today shows that nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters oppose scaling back the state’s current environmental funding programs, and 78 percent support guaranteed state funding to be used exclusively to protect and improve Pennsylvania’s environment. Voters also overwhelmingly support a proposal by a coalition of conservation groups to pay for a long-term fund with an increase in the state fee paid by waste haulers that dispose of garbage in Pennsylvania landfills. Even after being told that the proposed $5 per ton increase in the waste disposal fee could be passed along to consumers (approximately $12 annually per household) 63 percent of voters polled supported the increased fee. These findings were released as state officials are considering deep cuts in environmental funding to close Pennsylvania’s budget deficit.

The poll was commissioned by the Trust for Public Land in partnership with a coalition of twenty Pennsylvania-based conservation groups that has developed a detailed proposal for a dedicated environmental fund. The survey of 750 likely voters was conducted April 11-19 by Harrisburg-based Susquehanna Polling & Research, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

“The voters of Pennsylvania strongly support a dedicated source of funding for open space, watershed protection, and environmental restoration. They also back raising the garbage disposal fee to provide that dedicated funding, and to provide an incentive for more recycling and less interstate waste hauling,” said Andrew McElwaine, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

“The people of Pennsylvania clearly think that what would likely cost them a dollar a month is well worth it to protect their land, air and water, and to ensure funds for conservation in bad times as well as good,” said Chris Wells, conservation finance manager of the Trust for Public Land.

Support for the coalition’s proposed $5 per ton increase in the waste disposal fee was both strong and bipartisan–the increase was supported by 64 percent of registered Democrats and 62 percent of Republicans. The increase was favored by 55 percent of those who consider themselves conservative, 70 percent of moderates, and 81 percent of liberals. Variation between urban, suburban and rural voters was so small that it fell within the poll’s margin of error, and support was also consistent across the state’s geographic regions.

Another major finding of the poll was strong voter support for the coalition’s proposal to increase state spending on land conservation. While Pennsylvania ranked 48th out of 50 states in population growth during the 1990s, it ranked fifth in the nation in the development of open land. When asked about what kinds of land they thought should be preserved, survey respondents overwhelmingly identified preserving natural land that protects water quality as the top priority, with 94 percent support.

“With Pennsylvania facing a potentially disastrous drought, it is heartening to know that state residents clearly see the link between protecting our forests and keeping our waters plentiful and pure,” said Larry Schweiger, president and chief executive officer of Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.

“With Pennsylvania’s first Watershed Awareness Month about to start on May 1, we are encouraged that a vast majority of the commonwealth’s citizens want sustained state financing to continue to protect our watersheds,” said Walt Pomeroy, executive director of the Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers.

In addition to protecting watershed land, voter priorities included creating local parks (82 percent support), preserving land for outdoor recreation (81 percent), preserving land as fish and wildlife habitat (79 percent), and preserving land to manage growth and development (76 percent).

“Pennsylvanians want to conserve the land that makes Pennsylvania special, whether as parks, wildlife preserves or simply to help preserve the character of their communities,” said Andrew M. Loza, executive director of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

“There are critical environmental problems that need to be addressed and permanent, guaranteed funding provided by raising the tipping fee is essential if we are ever to begin to comprehensively address those problems,” said John Hanger, president and CEO of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future.

Voters also registered strong support for the coalition’s proposal to increase state funding for programs that protect and manage wildlife in Pennsylvania. In addition to preserving habitat land, 74 percent of those polled said they supported additional funding for the Wild Resource Conservation Fund, a state program that supports wildlife research, education, and the re-introduction of native species.

“The strength of support for the Wild Resource Conservation Fund is especially encouraging,” said Randy Gray, PA state director for The Nature Conservancy. “It is clear from the survey that Pennsylvanians care deeply about the State’s wild plants and animals and strongly support the protection of critical habitat.”

Seventy-four percent of respondents supported additional funding to the State Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission to manage and protect game and non-game wildlife species. Sixty-eight percent of respondents supported additional funding for those commissions to acquire habitat land and improve public access; sixty-three percent supported additional funding to the commissions to improve infrastructure and facilities.

“With our game and fish agencies struggling financially, we are pleased to see the strong public support to provide new funding sources for their work to conserve the full range of wildlife species,” said Cindy Dunn, Executive Director of Audubon Pennsylvania.

“Dedicated funding for our game and fish agencies would provide a stable, long-term source of revenue for the infrastructure that supports conservation and outdoor recreation for all Pennsylvanians,” said Melody Zullinger, executive director of the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

Sixty-three percent of respondents supported funding for downtown revitalization projects, the preservation of historic homes and urban homesteading programs.

Coalition Members

  • Audubon Pennsylvania
  • 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania
  • Bowman’s Creek Watershed Association
  • Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)
  • The Conservancy of Montgomery County
  • The Ecology Mission Group of Central Baptist Church of Wayne
  • Lower Merion Conservancy
  • Natural Lands Trust
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • PennPIRG
  • Pennsylvania Downtown Center
  • Pennsylvania Environmental Council
  • Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
  • Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation
  • Pennsylvania Organization for Watersheds and Rivers
  • Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia
  • Preservation Pennsylvania
  • Trust for Public Land
  • Western Pennsylvania Conservancy