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A municipality's governing body may establish an environmental advisory council to advise the municipality's decision-makers and undertake projects regarding the protection and conservation of natural resources.
An environmental advisory council (EAC) is a group of 3-7 people, appointed by a municipality’s governing body, that advises the elected officials, as well as the planning commission and park and recreation board, on the protection, conservation, management, promotion and use of natural resources within the municipality. When municipal officials are stretched for time and energy, it can be difficult to attend to environmental issues—even harder to consider them at the front end of decision-making. An EAC’s well-deliberated input is often a valuable perspective that the local elected officials respect and consider.
An EAC may also undertake or assist with a variety of environmental endeavors. The work of its members may take many shapes—providing professional assistance at no charge on a specific matter, raising money for a project, organizing and running a program, and more.
Pennsylvania’s Act 148 of 1973 (amended in 1996 as P.L. 1158, No. 177) authorizes municipalities to establish EACs. State law does not mandate the creation of EACs.
An EAC may only be established with the support of the local governing body—no support, no EAC. If a local governing body wants to create an EAC, it must do so by passing an ordinance.
The law allows municipalities to form multi-municipal EACs.
As of the last formal survey in 2008, local governments had established 150 EACs in the Commonwealth, mostly in eastern Pennsylvania.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association manages the website http://EACnetwork.org to educate on the establishment and operation of EACs and to aid EAC members in communicating with one another.
State law provides that environmental advisory councils “shall have the power to:
(Title 53 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statues, Part III, Subpart D, Chapter 23, Subchapter B Envi-ronmental Advisory Councils §2324 (a))
Elected officials may fear that if they establish an environmental advisory council, it could be taken over by radicals. In this case it is helpful to remind the elected officials that only they have the power to appoint EAC members, and that as an advisory body, the EAC only works if its recommendations achieve the respect and support of municipal officials. As such, EAC members have strong motivation to be deliberate in their work and maintain good communications with elected officials.
The impetus for establishing an environmental advisory council varies by the community:
Once an environmental advisory council is formed, it becomes part of the municipality’s local government structure, much like a planning commission, park and recreation board, or other appointed volunteer body. Each EAC works with elected and other officials to define its role. Officials may provide a list of projects to the EAC—or the EAC may suggest projects to the officials.
Examples of community environmental projects that could be spearheaded or topics that could be addressed by an EAC include:
Regardless of an EAC’s projects, it is critical that the elected and other municipal officials support the EAC and that the EAC maintains positive and productive working relationships with them.
Elected officials will need to have some understanding of what an environmental advisory council is and what it entails before they are willing to establish one. And community leaders and residents won’t be able to support the EAC’s creation or volunteer to serve on the EAC without some understanding. The amount of education needed or desired will vary by municipality and circumstances. A wealth of educational information can be found at http://eacnetwork.org/ and http://ConservationTools.org.
Once the municipality’s governing body has agreed that the creation of an EAC is appropriate, it establishes the EAC by local ordinance. Sample ordinances can be found at http://eacnetwork.org/.
Once the ordinance is passed, elected officials may select and approve three to seven members for the EAC. They also appoint one these members as the EAC chair.
The municipality may advertise for EAC members through a newsletter, website, posted notice, etc., and accept applications. Members are not required by law to have any particular expertise, but strong candidates for membership might include hydrologists, biologists, landscape architects, engineers, attorneys, professors, teachers, and other knowledgeable residents who are willing to volunteer to improve their community.
EAC members must be residents of the municipality, and Act 177 of 1996 states that “whenever possible, one member of the EAC shall also be a member of the municipal planning commission.”
The EAC is responsible for developing a set of bylaws to guide the council’s organization and operation. Model bylaws can be found at http://eacnetwork.org/.
Senate Bill 689, Session of 1995.
To find experts on the topics covered by this guide, see the right hand column of the on-line edition at http://conservationtools.org/guides/show/1. The on-line edition also contains the most up-to-date listing of related library items and guides.
Help improve the next edition of this guide. Email your suggestions to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
Pennsylvania Land Trust Association staff prepared this guide. Jeanne Barret Ortiz, formerly of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, provided some text for the first edition (2008).
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association published this guide with support from the William Penn Foundation and the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation.
© 2008, 2015 Pennsylvania Land Trust Association
Text may be excerpted and reproduced with acknowledgement of ConservationTools.org and the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.