April is Earth Month, but you wouldn’t know it at the state capitol in Harrisburg. April 12 was a dark day for Pennsylvania’s natural resources. The SenateEnvironmental Resources and Energy Committee took three actions that day to undermine protection of our air, land and water and our future.
The three matters before the seven Republicans and four Democrats on the committee were: a bill that would stop the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from submitting a Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants to the federal Environmental Protection Agency; a bill to stop badly-needed new gas drilling regulations; and, a recommendation for the Independent Regulatory Review Commission to disapprove the five-years-in-the-making update and strengthening of the gas drilling regulations.
The senators on the committee swiftly approved both bills voting eight to three on the bill to kill the gas drilling regulations, and ten to one to derail the Clean Power Plan. All the Republicans and Senator Yudichak voted to kill the gas drilling regulations. Only Senator Dinnimen voted against delaying the Clean Power Plan. The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee piled on also voting to recommend disapproval of the gas drilling regulations and introducing a resolution to stop them.
These anti-environmental actions are completely out of step with the public’s overwhelming support for strong regulation and oversight of the gas industry and for reducing greenhouse gas pollution and transitioning to a clean energy future. Unfortunately, we all know why the senators would risk the ire of the voters – as PennLive has reported, they’ve been the grateful recipients of almost $43 million in campaign contributions from the energy and natural resources industries over the last 15 years.
Blocking action on these two top priority environmental problems not only threatens our air, water and climate, they stand in the way of technological innovation and the economic development and jobs that addressing the problems would create. The gas drilling industry could go a long way toward regaining lost public support if they accepted the necessary regulations and set about deploying best practices and innovating to reducing drilling’s threats to water resources and air pollution. For example, the new regulations would require drillers to phase out the use of huge toxic wastewater impoundments – a practice that many drillers have already abandoned, but some still use despite a woeful track record of leaks.
Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan will detail how the state will cut carbon pollution from dirty power plants by 33 percent by 2030. DEP Secretary John Quigley said the goal is to meet the required reductions and maintain the ability to generate enough power to continue to be a net exporter of electricity to other states. Clean energy industries already employ more Pennsylvanians than gas drilling. The Clean Power Plan will put even more to work building more solar and wind power and aggressively deploying energy efficiency technologies.
These anti-environment bills will be waiting on the Senate floor when the senators return from the primary election break to Harrisburg on May 9. They will have the opportunity to give DEP the tools it needs to protect the public from gas drilling air and water pollution and to reject the effort to keep Pennsylvania from reducing carbon pollution from dirty power plants by opposing the bills. The senators might want to keep in mind that 51 percent of Americans want to ban fracking and 64 percent are very worried about climate change according to recent Gallup polls.
Even though the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees voted to stop environmental progress during Earth Month, the whole General Assembly has the opportunity to reject those actions in May. The members can demonstrate their independence from the gas drilling and fossil fuel industry and act in the public interest. The Pennsylvania legislature can either allow the stronger gas drilling regulations and the common sense Clean Power Plan to move forward, or they can obstruct the path to a cleaner, safer and more prosperous future.