The Robinson Family owes it to taxpayers to protect all of Crebilly Farm

from Neighbors for Crebilly Facebook, 10/23/18

Whose brain doesn’t ache when it’s time to send that big piece of our yearly pie to our town, county, school district, state, and the federal government? It hurts our heads less, though, when we can see the essential services we get in return. Trash picked up. Roads paved. Kids educated. Fires fought. New Jersey defended from foreign invasion, etc. But no one likes paying higher taxes than necessary, or learning that someone else is not paying their fair share. We feel swindled. But it’s cheated we’ve been vis a vis the Crebilly Farm saga. The owners of that rare piece of idyllic eastern Chester County landscape, the Robinson family (heirs to the Acme Markets fortune and inheritors of Crebilly Farm) entered into a contract with Toll Brothers to pave our common legacy which experts conclude saw part of the Battle of the Brandywine. Toll’s and the Robinson’s plan to desecrate hallowed ground might suffice to get your dander up. If not, maybe knowing that you subsidized Crebilly Farm for decades will.

Unlike the vast majority of homeowners and landowners in the region, the Robinsons actually paid significantly reduced property taxes for Crebilly Farm because of a 1974 PA tax abatement measure called the “Clean and Green Program” (Act 319 ). The intent of this law was to encourage owners of 10 or more acres to conserve their land in return for large property tax breaks. However, no conservation easements are placed on enrolled land which is only safe for as long as the owners want to keep it open. For those who never intend to develop, Act 319 is a very fair deal for everyone: the landowner gets a nice tax reduction and taxpayers get the benefits of open space. For those like the Robinsons who decide to cash in on their land, Act 319 is nothing more than a decades-long tax holiday with an insultingly weak penalty for leaving the program: the sum of the last seven years of unadjusted taxes plus six percent interest. Even if a parcel has been enrolled since 1974, landowners only pay back seven years of unadjusted taxes instead of the full 44 year tab.

It’s a big tab we’ve picked up for the Robinsons. Instead of paying approximately $48,000 each year on the unadjusted assessment value of 322 acres, they pay just $6,519 in total on their open land. That’s less than what most homeowners pay for a house on one acre and it represents missing revenue for area taxing authorities who recoup that loss via higher taxes for the rest of us. In other words, if they had paid taxes based on the full assessed value of the land, everyone else’s tax bills would have been lower. Choosing to stay in the Clean and Green program would continue to be a fair arrangement: Crebilly would not send students to schools or cars to roads; it wouldn’t need sewers, traffic lights, or police protection. It wouldn’t need an army to defend it even if the original American army fought there. But now that they’ve chosen to leave Act 319 by selling to Toll, their “penalty” really becomes our penalty.

These absurd PA “rollback taxes” pale in comparison to what’s in place in New York state. Withdrawing from one of that state’s preservation programs costs the landowner the last 10 years of unadjusted taxes – multiplied by five – plus interest. NY’s exit fee in many cases is greater than what was saved with lowered tax bills. Consequently, very few landowners leave that state’s program. The weak exit cost for leaving Pennsylvania’s Act 319, on the other hand, actually cheats taxpayers twice. Not only is just a small fraction of lost tax revenue recovered, after the land is residentially developed, taxes invariably rise as increased population density necessitates more expensive services.

Residentially developing Crebilly would be not be financially beneficial to taxing authorities. While revenue would increase from new taxpayers, there are associated costs attached to that new revenue. According to separate well-regarded national studies by the American Farmland Trust, the Keystone Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and the DVRPC, each dollar of revenue raised from a new residential development actually costs a taxing authority between $1.03 and $2. Taxpayers, therefore, face higher tax bills when residential developers come to town by adding to the housing density of the municipality, SD, or county. Simply, increased density triggers a need for more expensive services.

If tax rates weren’t hitched to density, the 80,000 people living in the eight square miles of Upper Darby Township would have some of the lowest taxes in PA. Instead, they have some of the highest. Conversely, lower density equals lower taxes: compare Pocopson Township to Upper Darby, Chester County to Delaware County, New Hampshire to New Jersey. In the vast majority of cases, lower density equals lower taxes. West Chester Area School District understands this well which is why the school board passed a resolution last year demanding $645,000 per year from Toll for five years to pay for the large influx of new students to the district.

Some apologists for this taxpayer swindle will argue that we got open space for all the years the Robinsons were in the program, but that ignores the undeniable fact that Act 319 was intended to encourage conservation. Passed shortly after the Environmental Rights Amendment was added to our state constitution in 1971, it reflected the new concern for the environment that infused the early 70s. The PA Legislature certainly did not intend this program to be used by large landowners as a temporary tax haven while waiting for the right moment to cash in. But that’s what it’s become and area Pennsylvania Legislators have refused to do anything about it.

So how much have the Robinsons saved through Act 319 since the 70s on all the land they’ve owned and sold off along the 202 corridor and on both sides of 926? Likely millions. That’s money we had to pay instead. If Toll ever defiles Crebilly and its history with a colony of plastic houses, it’s money we’ll never get back. Added to the trauma of losing Crebilly is the insult of higher taxes that would be needed to pay for new services. But this doesn’t have to be. The Robinsons could, if the opportunity presents itself, show their appreciation to taxpayer largesse and sell Crebilly Farm at a conservation price to a consortium so that all future generations could enjoy it as a county park and a hallowed sanctuary of open space to honor the first American heroes.

You’ll Never Even Know We Were Here,’ Sunoco Told Ginny. They Lied

Food and Water Watch, 12/2/18, 12/2/18

When Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners came to Chester and Delaware counties just outside of Philadelphia to push their plans to drill, they didn’t dream that Ginny and her community would put up the fight that they have. Now that these neighbors have had some success in tangling Sunoco’s plans, they’re planning to fight even harder to get the company’s pipelines out of their yards.

When Ginny Marcille-Kerslake looks back on the last two years of damage to her community, what upsets her the most is the fact that Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners lied to her.

“You’ll never even know we were here,” is what the fossil fuel corporation said, according to residents who were talked into getting on board with their underground drilling plan for the Mariner East 2 and 2X pipelines, which would transport highly explosive liquids right through their community.

It’s become something of a sick punchline now that time has shown the havoc Sunoco/ETP would wreak on residents’ homes, yards, safety, and property values, not to mention their time, energy, and peace of mind….

read more at Food and Water Watch, 12/2/18

Methane sample letter to Gov. Wolf

Text of sample message in a petition for which signatures are being gathered by PennFuture:

Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producing state in the nation. Methane pollution, as well as harmful VOCs from this production, poses a serious risk to our climate and our health.

Thank you for adopting crucial oil and gas pollution standards to control methane, VOCs and other harmful pollutants from new and modified natural gas infrastructure. This action was a significant step in cutting climate-warming methane and harmful air pollution across Pennsylvania.

However, there is still a lot of work to do. While the Trump administration attempts to roll back existing federal methane standards, tens of thousands of existing natural gas wells, compressor stations, and auxiliary infrastructure across Pennsylvania continue to leak methane. A recent analysis from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) estimated that oil and gas facilities in Pennsylvania emit over 520,000 tons of methane annually. That figure is five times higher than what industry self-reports to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Regardless of the future of federal methane rollbacks, I implore you to direct DEP to develop a comprehensive rule to directly control methane from existing natural gas sources similar to the standards DEP developed for new and modified sources. Controlling VOCs, while excluding methane, will not fulfill your pledge to protect the environment and public health and curb climate change. By directly targeting methane, DEP would ensure the rule covers as many sources of methane across Pennsylvania as possible.

I urge you to continue your record of taking strong action on this issue by ensuring that DEP proposes a comprehensive rule that targets VOCs and methane from existing natural gas infrastructure.

“The Future of Energy,” Dec. 7

Friday, December 7
7:00 – 9:00pm
50 Sharpless St, West Chester, PA 19383

“The Future of Energy,” about clean energy. Sponsored by West Chester University, Sierra Club, PennFuture, PennEnvironment, and Don’t Spray Me!

Expert panel, Q&A, activities for children, refreshments, tour of the LEED-certified Business and Public Management Center, community group displays. Last in the fall 20-189 environmental film series; film at 7 p.m., doors open at 6:30.

Park across Sharpless St. in the public parking garage or in metered spaces on Sharpless or Church St. (on-street parking should be free on this evening; check wording on the meter). More info from the film web site (and see trailer there):

A Film by Brett Mazurek, Missy Lahren, Maximilian DeArmon and Theo Badashi 64 Minutes Grades 7 – Adult The Future of Energy journeys across America to shine a light on the communities and individuals who are at the forefront of the clean energy revolution, taking practical steps to transition from fossil fuels to renewable power. Solar, wind and water could power the planet by the year 2050, according to experts in the film, substantially reducing carbon emissions. What’s needed is the social and political willpower to make the change on a large scale. Two model towns are highlighted for their exemplary steps towards clean energy: Greensburg, Kansas, and Lancaster, California.

CCL’s take on the new political landscape in D.C.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby, 11/7/18

The elections are over, the people have spoken, and now the Democrats control the House of Representatives. In the following statements, CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds and CCL VP for Government Affairs Danny Richter provide some perspective on what we can expect in this new political landscape.

Mark Reynolds: “Now that Democrats control the House, there is great potential to move bipartisan legislation to price carbon. I emphasize ‘bipartisan,’ because the only way to enact an effective and enduring solution is to have buy-in from both sides of the aisle. We believe a market-based solution, putting a fee on carbon and returning revenue to households, can find the common ground between Republicans and Democrats. With the IPCC warning that we have little more than a decade to take the ‘unprecedented’ actions needed to avoid the worst outcomes of climate change, we can’t kick the can down an ever-shortening road.”

“We also want to thank Carlos Curbelo for his leadership with the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, and we hope he’ll find a way to continue that leadership on climate change outside of Congress. Curbelo’s defeat, however, does not signal the end of the caucus. We’re confident other Republicans will step up to lead, and the existing and potential members are invested in continuing bipartisan work on climate. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Climate Solutions Caucus are greatly exaggerated.”

Danny Richter: “With Democrats chairing committees, we’re likely to see hearings that provide a robust and constructive dialogue on climate solutions, like the carbon fee and dividend policy recently announced in Canada. We’re also wasting no time getting the ball rolling on legislation to price carbon. On Nov. 13, we’ll send 621 citizen lobbyists to Capitol Hill to generate the bipartisan momentum to move forward with a bill in the 116th Congress and make climate change a bridge issue, not a wedge issue. We’ll continue working on both sides of that bridge.”

Read Mark Reynolds’ further thoughts on the future of the bipartisan Climate Solution Caucus in The Hill

Documentary on PA Environmental Rights Amendment features the Delaware Riverkeeper

News from Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a member of the Chester County Environment Alliance:

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, was featured on the State Impact Pennsylvania documentary “Generations Yet To Come: The story of environmental rights in Pennsylvania,” which focuses on Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, known as Pennsylvania’s Green Amendment. Van Rossum and her team were instrumental in the 2013 legal victory Robinson Township v Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that breathed life back into the amendment.

Van Rossum was the featured speaker at the Sept. 8, 2018, Chester County March for Climate Justice and Environment.

Read more in “DRN & 7 Towns Challenge & Defeat Act 13.” Excerpt:

…”The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued its decision on December 19, 2013. In that decision the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Act 13 violates the Pennsylvania Constitution on the grounds that it violates the Environmental Rights Amendment. In doing so, the Court held that the right to pure water, clean air and a healthy environment are fundamental rights that must be given high-priority consideration and protection by every level of Pennsylvania’s government. The Court’s decision also struck down the shale gas industry’s effort to force every municipality in the state to allow gas drilling and related industrial operations in every zoning district. The Court’s decision upheld the ability of local governments to protect their local communities and natural resources through zoning….”

Watch the 26-minute documentary here, including also Franklin Kury [photo Kury speaking in the video], who as a young legislator secured passage of the state’s 1971 “Green Amendment,” which reads:

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

But as the documentary brings out, municipalities still need to zone properly to keep threats to residents’ welfare out of residential districts. And some interviewees still uphold the industry point of view that the courts should defer to the legislature, which of course is heavily influenced by industry donations, and that “property rights” confer a right to pollute and degrade the environment. Constant vigilance is still needed!

Compare to pipeline operators’ current attempts to place pipelines wherever suits them?