What are environmental advisory councils?

EACs are officially constituted municipal boards created to advise local governments on environmental issues and policies. Any municipality or group of municipalities in Pennsylvania may create an EAC by ordinance.

Authority for Creation of an EAC

In 1973, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 148 authorizing any municipality or group of municipalities to establish, by ordinance, an EAC. In 1996, Act 177 was passed, which amended Act 148. This State enabling statute, Act 148 of 1973, as amended in 1996 by Act 177, is included in Appendix I. EACs advise the local planning commission, recreation and park board and elected officials on matters dealing with the protection, conservation, management, promotion and use of natural resources located within the municipality's territorial limits.

Mandated Responsibilities

The enabling legislation requires each council to keep records of meetings and activities and to issue an annual report, which should be distributed with the municipality’s annual report or made available to the public in other ways.

Specific Powers

Act 148, as amended, empowers EACs to:

  • Identify environmental issues and recommend plans and programs to the appropriate municipal agencies for the promotion and conservation of natural resources and for the protection and improvement of the quality of the environment within its territorial limits;
  • Make recommendations for the possible use of open land areas;
  • Promote a community environmental program;
  • Keep an index of all open space, publicly or privately owned, including flood-prone areas, swamps and other unique natural areas, for the purpose of obtaining information on the proper use of those areas;
  • Advise the appropriate local government agencies, including the planning commission and recreation and park board and the elected governing body, on the acquisition of property, both real and personal.

Multi-municipal EACs

Act 148, as amended, also gives individual municipalities the authority to join with neighbors to form regional, multi-municipal EACs. Multi-municipal EACs are desirable and effective because they provide a mechanism for neighboring local governments to join together to focus on natural systems such as watersheds, forests or aquifer recharge areas as units rather than as fragments. The regional perspective offered by a multi-municipal EAC establishes a cohesive, long-term vision as the group plans for natural resource protection. For a sample multi-municipal EAC ordinance, see Appendix IV.

Membership and Terms

Act 148, as amended, stipulates that an EAC may be composed of three to seven members, who serve without compensation and are appointed to staggered three-year terms. EACs with three members can function effectively, however, a full complement of seven members enables access to a wider range of expertise and the ability to undertake more projects.

Members are appointed by the local governing body. In the case of multi-municipal EACs, each participating municipality appoints an equal number of members to serve on the council.

Act 148, as amended, states that "whenever possible, one member shall also be a member of the municipal planning board." This cross-representation can be an important factor in the effectiveness of an EAC.

Beyond this recommendation, members are not required to represent specific groups or to have particular areas of expertise. However, such requirements may be included in the adopted ordinance to allow a municipality to create an EAC that is best able to deal with issues particular to its region. In general, the most important qualifications are i n t e rest in environmental issues, interest in local government and planning issues and willingness to devote time to the council's projects. It is always helpful to have at least some members with expertise in relevant areas of science, planning, policy and development.

When new councils are formed, and when vacancies on existing councils occur, the governing body (although not required by law to do so) should advertise the open positions and attempt to fill them with a broadly representative group of individuals.

The governing body can establish an associate member program. Associate members can provide valuable assistance on council projects, and should be given primary consideration when openings on the council occur.

(from EAC Handbook: A Guide for Pennsylvania’s Environmental Advisory Councils)

© Roger Latham 2017