As the dust settles and recognition of President-elect Joe Biden’s win sinks in, the public and pundits are starting to look more closely at the results of down-ballot races.
It’s clear that Election Day 2020 didn’t deliver the “blue wave” that some had expected for congressional and state legislative races in the Keystone State and across the country. In Pennsylvania, instead of Democrats winning back one or both chambers of the General Assembly, they lost seats in both houses. Right now, it looks like the Democrats will hold one fewer seat in the state Senate, and potentially three fewer seats in the state House. Those minor changes mean that the legislative landscape for the next couple of years will look much the same as it has in recent years.
That’s bad news when it comes to implementing much-needed environmental and climate policies. The leadership that has run the General Assembly for the past few sessions is anti-environment: They’ve attempted to classify burning plastics as “recycling,” rolled back clean water standards by 30 years, and halted making air polluters pay for their emissions. Now they’re still in charge, and likely to continue using taxpayer money to subsidize polluters and attacking proposed solutions to reduce climate pollution.
But all is not lost. Climate issues present a unique opportunity for bipartisan action. There are already ample bipartisan clean energy and climate proposals waiting to be moved through the Pennsylvania legislature — if the leadership in the Republican majority chooses to take advantage of it.
Poll after poll shows that Pennsylvanians broadly approve of policies promoting clean air, clean water, and climate solutions. As The Inquirer noted in its election coverage, recent polling shows that 76% of Pennsylvania voters said they consider climate change a serious problem. Polls around water pollution have shown similar bipartisan backing from a wide swath of Pennsylvanians, with 78% of the state’s residents in favor of safeguards to protect drinking water and aquatic habitats.
Consider: The state Senate passed legislation to promote the construction of electric vehicle infrastructure by a huge margin, 43-6. Yet, even though a broad bipartisan array of business interests, environmental groups, and labor unions supported the bill, which would build a foundation to help us reduce emissions, the state House never brought it up for a vote.
A second proposal to promote community solar has 100 cosponsors in the state House but has been stymied in a committee where it only needs 13 votes for passage. It’s also supported by an unusual coalition of farmers, environmental leaders, and organized labor.
Another bipartisan bill with nearly 100 cosponsors would set much-needed standards to protect children, teachers, and employees from lead in drinking water that may exist in Pennsylvania’s school buildings. It’s backed by “Green New Deal” Democrats and Trump-supporting Republicans alike.
To get our lawmakers to enact these popular policies, residents of the Keystone State need to maintain the level of civic engagement that they have exhibited for months. The election showed that people have been scrutinizing their elected officials and their agendas. That civic engagement now has to continue beyond just our very visible election cycle.
Much of 2020 has been a political brawl. Now that the election is over, it would certainly benefit our planet and our democracy if leaders in Harrisburg worked to find places of broad agreement on the environment and get things done. We can’t afford any more political gamesmanship creating gridlock at the local, state, and federal levels.
If the majority puts politics over Pennsylvanians, executive action may supersede legislative inaction. Gov. Tom Wolf can use his regulatory authority to push for more protections to ensure clean air and clean water, and address climate change.
But it doesn’t need to come to that. Everyone has something to win here. If the majority passes and implements broadly supported, bipartisan policies, those wins could help legislators running for reelection in 2022 in newly designed districts. Several options on the table that enjoy bipartisan support in Harrisburg and broad public support from Erie to Allentown could be the road map for an environmental and energy agenda for the next two years under Pennsylvania’s capitol dome.