Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Republicans in Harrisburg are using Ukraine to promote a climate-denialist agenda | Editorial

Pennsylvania can — and should — be independent of bad actors like Russia. We can do that by liberating ourselves from the fossil fuel industry altogether.

A plume of emissions flows from a stack at the Cheswick Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, in Springdale, Pa., in June 2021.
A plume of emissions flows from a stack at the Cheswick Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant, in Springdale, Pa., in June 2021.Read moreKeith Srakocic / AP

Republican lawmakers are using Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine to advance their anti-climate agenda. With bills bearing jingoistic names such as “PA Energy Independence Act” and “Ending Pro-Putin Pipeline Bans,” Republicans in the state legislature have proposed a laundry list of ways in which Pennsylvania can turn back the clock on any measures to reduce carbon emissions or protect the clean air and water of the commonwealth.

» READ MORE: Nations 'united' in seeking to cut Russian oil, gas imports

State Sens. Doug Mastriano, who is running for governor, and Scott Hutchinson announced their intent to introduce a comprehensive climate-denialist wish list: suspending the few taxes that natural gas producers pay, ending the moratorium on new leases for oil and gas on state land, reducing gas permit fees, exempting Pennsylvania from regulations put forth by the Environmental Protection Agency, and preventing the commonwealth from entering the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) — a carbon cap-and-invest program that would both reduce emissions and bring billions of dollars to Pennsylvania.

The flurry of cosponsored memoranda, bills, and resolutions is not only focused on Pennsylvania. The Republican lawmakers suggest calling on President Joe Biden to reinstate the permit of the Keystone XL pipeline and reverse his ban on new leases of federal land for oil and gas development. The measures also call on the governors of New York and New Jersey to reverse their state bans on new natural gas pipelines. Another bill will attempt to give Pennsylvania greater voting power within the Delaware Vally Basin Commission to reverse decisions such as last year’s ban on fracking within the basin to protect its water.

Republicans want Pennsylvanians to believe that any of these measures, despite clear harm to the environment, would have had an impact either on Putin’s position on the world stage or current energy prices for consumers here at home. None of this is true.

Pennsylvania leased or severed mineral rights of about a third of the 1.5 million acres of state forest that sit atop the Marcellus Shale. But the majority of these acres, despite the leases, have not been developed. Not every permit that the Department of Environmental Protection issued is used, either.

And yet, in 2020, fossil fuel companies extracted the highest volume of natural gas on record for a single year.

It’s insulting to suggest that Pennsylvania suspend the minimal taxes that drillers pay, despite the commonwealth being the only gas-producing state that doesn’t impose a severance tax on extracted resources.

Not a single proposal in these Republican bills would make it cheaper for Pennsylvanians to fill their car’s gas tank.

» READ MORE: Utility bills are soaring in the Philly region and so is customer outrage

Perhaps most nefarious is the suggestion that the RGGI, a tested and proven way to reduce emissions from the energy sector while bringing in funds through auctions of carbon allowances, is a problem and not part of the solution. For years, state agencies have done the regulatory work to join RGGI, but Republicans have managed to hold the effort hostage. In January, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a resolution that would have blocked Pennsylvania from entering RGGI. But Republicans have threatened a veto override vote, which is delaying the implementation of the regulations.

Meanwhile, coal plants are closing without any money to help the workers who are left behind — money that RGGI could bring in.

There are ways to help Pennsylvanians who are feeling the financial pinch in times of increased energy prices. Lawmakers can join State Sen. Patrick Browne, Republican of Lehigh County, in expanding the bipartisan support for State Sen. Nikil Saval’s Whole Home Repairs Act that would, among other things, reduce utility bills. Harrisburg could pass the Community Solar bill to expand renewable energy access. Just as important, legislators could use some of last year’s budget surplus to invest in transportation as a way to reduce reliance on cars.

The most recent United Nations report on climate change is a reminder that the images of millions of refugees streaming out of Ukraine are only a prelude to us all feeling the worst effects of the climate crisis within a decade or two if we don’t change course now. Pennsylvania can and should be independent of bad actors like Russia — we do that not by doubling down on fossil fuels that are traded as a global commodity, but by liberating ourselves from that ruinous market altogether.