Bill would allow private-sector companies to bid on bay cleanup efforts

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — As Pennsylvania continues to fall behind on federal mandates to reduce pollutants entering the Chesapeake Bay, a state lawmaker believes private sector companies could offer a solution.

Senator Rich Alloway (R-33) has introduced SB799, which would open up bidding on pollution-reducing efforts to private firms. Alloway says the goal is to both reduce the amount of pollutants entering local waterways and lower costs to taxpayers.

“The reason it is so expensive is because it is government-driven,” said Alloway, a Franklin County legislator who also holds a seat on the multi-state Chesapeake Bay Commission. “Government is not designed to be cost-efficient. The private sector is.”

Supporting the bill is the Coalition for Affordable Bay Solutions, which represents private environmental technology companies including Colorado-based BION. In 2011, BION funded a high-tech manure management system at Kreider Farms in Lancaster County. The system takes manure collected on the large commercial farm and removes nitrogen and phosphorus prior to the pollutants entering local water sources, the Susquehanna River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay.

“This bill implements a 2013 Legislative Budget and Finance Committee study which projected that the cost of Bay compliance could be reduced by 80% if the state adopted a competitive bidding program,” said BION CEO Dominic Bassani. “Right now, not only are you not getting the most bang for your buck, but the least costly solutions are not being implemented simply because they’re not allowed to participate in the process.”

Earlier this week, the Department of Environmental Protection announced Governor Tom Wolf’s approval of funding to support to 17 municipal stormwater projects in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. According to the agency, the result of the $2,286,047 investment by the state will be 396 pounds of phosphorous, 2,800 pounds of nitrogen and almost 800,000 pounds of sediment from local waters.

Based on those numbers, Bassani calculates taxpayers are paying more than $800 for every pound of nitrogen being removed by wastewater facilities, and claims private companies like his can accomplish similar results for $8-$10 per pound.

“If you found out you had a contract to buy textbooks for $100 a piece, and then you saw you could buy them somewhere else for $2, wouldn’t you be upset?” adds Bassani. “That is what is happening here. PennDOT partnered with private companies to fix bridges, and it saved a lot of taxpayer money and the job got completed faster. Now, the taxpayer is taking all the risk. If a project doesn’t perform, they still pay. Under the bill, private companies would invest in the projects.”

Under SB799, private companies that procure nitrogen and phosphorus from waste with on-site systems, like that at Kreider Farms, would receive certified credits from the DEP, which could be sold like other commodities. As a result, Bassani and Alloway both suggest local municipalities could purchase credits at a fraction of the price they are currently paying to remove the pollutants through projects like upgraded municipal water treatment plants. The purchasing of certified credits would fulfill federal mandates and boost Pennsylvania’s performance.

“Treating livestock waste on-site, addressing the problem where it takes place is how you’re going to clean up your local environment and clean up the Bay,” said Bassani. “The Bay doesn’t care where the nitrogen comes from.”

“We haven’t found anyone who is totally against it,” said Alloway, explaining that the bill is not a mandate on municipalities, which could continue to choose their own method for meeting federal clean water guidelines. “I will say this. If you are pro-government solving your every problem, I don’t think you’ll like this solution.”

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