Friday, April 22, 2016

Happy Earth Day - Not

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.




Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Wagner's money and the budget impasse

So, there’s this story circulating in the halls of the state capitol building about a showdown between Senator Scott Wagner and Senator Jake Corman, the Senate Majority Leader. The story goes that Wagner rounded up a posse of senators, approached the majority leader, and threatened to stage a coup to remove him from his leadership position if he allows a vote in the Senate to raise revenue to fund the state budget. Each of the three times I’ve heard the tale, the size of the posse grew – first time I heard it, Wagner had six senators in tow; next time I heard it the posse grew to 10; and, the last time I heard it there were 13 of them.

Whatever the details, this story is consistent with others that have Wagner doing everything he can to thwart compromise on the state budget. His influence reaches across the building into the state House. Wagner sometimes watches House sessions from the gallery as a reminder to Republican members not to dare commit the heresy of compromise by voting to raise the revenue needed to pay the state’s bills.

Few, if any Republicans dare to stand up to the first-term senator from York County who is insisting on, and enforcing, a no-tax ideology.

Here’s why. In 2015 Senator Wagner made a total of $208,461.98 in campaign contributions. Most of this, $116,880, went to candidates for the State Supreme Court who lost to a Democratic sweep. He gave $50,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, making him the largest individual donor to the committee.

There are Republicans in the General Assembly who will support compromise and vote to raise taxes as the near passing of a compromise budget just before Christmas demonstrated. Or there were – most moderates are now hunkered down fearing that if they leave the Wagner reservation, all that campaign contribution fire-power will be turned on them.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Arenson's appointment politicizes Office of Open Records



Corbett's departing act of appointing Eric Arenson to head the Office of Open Records effectively politicized an office that, under the direction of Terry Mutchler, was non-partisan and professional. Mutchler’s term expired months ago, but Corbett delayed naming a replacement until his last day in office.

Arenson is a Republican operative. He moved immediately to staff the office with Corbett loyalists intending to bring Delene Lantz-Johnson over from Corbett's governor's office. Among her duties there was reviewing open records requests, 70 percent of which she denied. Most of those denials were reversed by Terry Mutchler's office. I am told that Arenson continues to attend a conservative Republican strategy meeting hosted each week by Republican lobbyist Charlie Gerow, the Harrisburg equivalent of Grover Norquist's infamous Wednesday meetings in DC.

Governor Wolf correctly assessed that the political independence and professionalism of the Office of Open Records is at stake and Corbett’s 11th hour appointment of Arenson to head the office is the opposite of government transparency. And Wolf did not name his own replacement. Instead, he will conduct a nationwide search for a highly qualified professional to head the office.


Governor Wolf's action is completely consistent with his stated commitment to openness, transparency and professionalism in state government. What a refreshing change.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Sour grapes from Corbett's speechwriter



Former Governor Corbett’s speechwriter, Dennis Roddy, served up readers of the Harrisburg Patriot/PennLive a plate of sour grapes on inauguration day. Roddy, who lost his job that noon, didn't like Governor Wolf’s speech.

With very few exceptions (…..Ask what you can do for your country) nobody ever remembers inauguration speeches. What people do remember are actions, and on Governor Wolf’s first day in office, he took two actions to begin to restore public confidence in government. The governor signed two executive orders – one banning anyone in the executive branch from receiving gifts from anyone except close, longtime friends or family members, and another that requires the Commonwealth to conduct competitive bidding for outside legal services contracts.

I certainly do not remember Governor Corbett’s inauguration speech, which I assume was written by his speechwriter, but I do remember his actions. He accepted tens of thousands of dollars in gifts from lobbyists, political donors and people with business before state government agencies. Those gifts included the gown Mrs. Corbett wore to the inauguration. He rewarded the gift-givers with appointments to influential boards and commissions, favorable regulatory decisions and lucrative contracts for legal services.


I won’t remember Governor Wolf’s inaugural speech either, but I will remember his actions on his first day in office.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Fractivist foolishness

Groups that cling to the futile hope that Pennsylvania will ban drilling for natural gas are planning to throw a tantrum during Governor-elect Wolf’s inauguration. According to an organizing website, these groups are urging people to disrupt the ceremonies to the point of being arrested.

In doing so, they give the unfortunate impression that the “environmental community” does not support the new governor. In fact, Pennsylvania’s mainstream environmental organizations are looking forward to working with the Wolf Administration to strengthen gas drilling oversight and improve regulations, work for cleaner air and water and begin to address Pennsylvania’s climate change challenges.

While there is no prospect that the new governor will attempt to ban drilling in Pennsylvania, he has said that he will reinstate the moratorium on leasing more state forest and park land for gas drilling; that he supports the moratorium on drilling in the Delaware River watershed; and his Department of Environmental Protection will significantly improve oversight of gas drilling and strengthen regulations to better protect our air and water. His nomination of John Quigley to be secretary of DEP indicates that he means to carry out those campaign promises.


Rather than alienate Governor Wolf and his administration, the fractivists could put their considerable energy and passion to work supporting the governor’s efforts to enact badly-needed improvements in the oversight and regulation of gas drilling. It is unfortunate foolishness that they seem determined to demand the impossible in an unproductive manner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Quigley, Dunn best choices for PA's environment




Competence, experience, commitment. Governor-elect Tom Wolf’s choice of John Quigley to head the Department of Environmental Protection and Cindy Dunn as secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources shows the new governor wants people in his cabinet who possess those qualities. And John and Cindy have them in abundance.

Cindy has spent her career in conservation. From her early days as an outdoor educator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, she served as director of both the Pennsylvania office of the Alliance for the Chesapeake and Audubon Pennsylvania and went on to serve in leadership positions at DCNR under both Republican and Democratic secretaries. She will leave her post as CEO of PennFuture to take the helm at DCNR.

At the tender age of 26, John was elected mayor of Hazelton serving two terms in a town where politics is almost a blood sport. He held management positions in the private sector and came to Harrisburg to take the position of government relations manager at PennFuture. He served as deputy secretary of DCNR under Mike DeBerardinis and was confirmed as the agency’s secretary when DeBerardinis returned to Philadelphia.

Both John and Cindy are committed to public service. They embody the values of the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment which guarantees the Commonwealth’s citizens the right to “clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment,” and they take seriously their duty under that amendment to protect that right.

Both are also pragmatic. Over the course of their careers both have worked successfully with industries in the interest of a cleaner environment and conservation of our natural resources. They will be fair and firm. They understand that a good economy depends on a clean environment. Their decisions and policies will be guided by data and informed by science.


Governor-elect Wolf has made the best choices possible for these crucial positions. Given their competence, experience and commitment to public service John Quigley and Cindy Dunn deserve swift confirmation by the Senate.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Mixed bag - court ruling on state forest gas leasing



Yesterday Commonwealth Court handed down a ruling in a case brought by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation (PEDF) that challenged the transfer of royalty revenue from gas drilling on state forestland from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund to the General Fund.

Prior to 2009, the 1955 Oil and Gas Lease Fund Act restricted the uses of the revenue for “conservation, recreation, dams, or flood control,” and placed the discretion to allocate the funds solely in the hands of the secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR). In 2008, DCNR decided to allow drilling for Marcellus shale gas in state forestland. In one afternoon a lease auction brought $163 million into the Fund, more than had ever gone into it in its entire existence.

In 2009, the legislature and the Rendell administration transferred $60 million from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund into the General Fund to balance the state budget. Since then, well more than half a billion dollars has flowed into Oil and Gas Lease Fund, and almost all of it has been transferred out. DCNR operations are now essentially “off budget” funded nearly entirely by gas drilling and timbering royalties.

The PEDF lawsuit claimed that the transfers violate the Pennsylvania Constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment. Commonwealth Court said it did not, and the legislature has the power to use the Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenue in whatever way it chooses as long as it’s for the benefit of all the people of Pennsylvania
.
However, the court also ruled that the secretary of DCNR, not the governor, has the sole discretion to lease state forest land for gas drilling – a small distinction as the governor is the DCNR secretary’s boss. Perhaps of more importance, the court reaffirmed that the language of the Environmental Rights Amendment actually confers the right to clean air and pure water to Pennsylvania citizens and requires the Commonwealth to protect that right.


The PEDF lawsuit also prevented the Corbett administration’s plan to lease more state forest land for gas drilling, and Governor-elect Tom Wolf promised to reinstate the Rendell moratorium on further leasing of our public forest for gas drilling.