Gov. Rendell spells out ACRE

ROCK SPRINGS, Pa. – Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell bolstered his plan to keep farmers out of court in front of more than 600 people at Ag Progress Days last week in Rock Springs, Pa.
“We won’t let anyone file local ordinances to try to stop you from legitimate farming,” he told guests at the government and industry luncheon Aug. 18.
This is in response to his recent proposal, Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Initiative (ACRE), designed to help farmers and the community negotiate their differences rather than end up in a lawsuit.
Local governments bow to a few outspoken people and appease them by restricting agriculture, the governor said.
This forces farmers into court and many of them don’t have the money to challenge these ordinances, he said.
Address the issue. Although House Bill 1222 was meant to be a solution, Rendell vetoed the bill New Year’s Eve, saying it wasn’t “balanced and didn’t do anything to solve the overall problem.”
He says ACRE addresses the concerns he had with H.B. 1222.
“[This] replacement is far superior than 1222 – far superior to the farmers, far superior to the residents of the community, far superior to the environment.”
While the original bill held local governments financially responsible if they made ordinances surpassing state law, the governor’s new initiative focuses on compromise.
Rendell proposed an Agriculture Review Board that would help farmers and local officials or the community negotiate a solution. If they can’t resolve the issue, the board would make a determination that could be appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Appeals would only be done with a “very strict standard of review,” Rendell said.
Education, too. Local officials don’t realize how their rulings affect farmers, Rendell said.
The review board, however, adds an educational component. The people on the board – the secretaries of agriculture, environmental protection, and community and economic development; dean of Penn State’s School of Agricultural Sciences; and a governor-appointed member – know about agriculture, he said.
A highlight of this board is that farmers don’t need a lawyer and they won’t be hit with legal fees, he said.
Environment. But ACRE isn’t just about court costs and ordinances.
It takes the good things about H.B. 1222, meaning limiting local officials’ power, but also addresses environmental problems, Rendell said.
His proposal requires that large farms follow best management practices for odor reduction.
It also calls on a task force to serve as a clearinghouse on air quality issues, orders minimum buffers to streams, improves agriculturally impaired streams, monitors antibiotics and requires documentation for manure importers.
The proposal will be introduced to the General Assembly this fall.
(Reporter Kristy Hebert welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at khebert@farmanddairy.com.)

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