PennFuture Blog

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Engaging on Environmental Concerns and Listening across the State: Meet the CEO Happy Hours

This spring, PennFuture kicked off a series of Meet the CEO Happy Hour events around the state, as we wanted to create opportunities for me to meet more of our supporters, activists and partners spread all around this very large Commonwealth.   

More importantly, we wanted to create a chance for all of you, as our eyes and ears on the ground, to talk with me, share your concerns and meet other members of our talented PennFuture staff. I’ve enjoyed this time a lot, and now I feel much more plugged into a community of people who care deeply about our environment, and who are doing remarkable work to protect it.  

After the 2016 elections, PennFuture made a conscious decision to be more active in Pennsylvania’s mid-sized towns and communities. Our happy hours are a part of that endeavor, and now have taken us to Erie, Ambler, State College, Mount Pocono, and of course Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where I tend to spend a lot of time already.  I’ve learned quite a bit more about the concerns of folks living in these places and I wanted to share some of what I have heard with all of you.

One of our best attended events was held in Erie, where I reconnected with several activists who shared their concerns about Erie Coke Works. While we are not ready to make specific pronouncements about pollution from the facility, the community may be dealing with significant pollution problems, based on the odors and visible emissions coming from the works.  There were conversations about the Lake Erie and French Creek and about renewable energy opportunities, and threats from pipelines and plastics.  We had a chance to meet a large group of senior academics and administrators from Gannon University, who were not there for the happy hour, but with whom a lot of synergy is now evident.  

In Pittsburgh, there was a lot of talk about air quality, fracking and the petrochemical build-out underway and led by Shell Global in nearby Beaver County. I connected with some old friends from the nine years I spent living and working in Pittsburgh.  For as much time spent talking over the challenges, there was good talk about renewable energy over microbrews. PennFuture has had a presence in Pittsburgh since its beginning, and so many of you who came out have had long relationships with our organization.

Up in the Poconos, we had a fantastic turnout and we saw friends from close partners like Brodhead Watershed Association and Trout Unlimited. PennFuture’s office in Mount Pocono is focused on protecting those high quality headwater streams of the Delaware River Basin, and so there was a lot of talk about Exceptional Value streams, and how they must continue to be protected, while at the same time allowing for economic development to flourish. We had a group from the Wind Gap area come to talk to us about sludge disposal and their work to protect their community. 

In Ambler, I had a chance to meet Mayor Jeanne Sorg, and talk about Ambler’s commitment to sustainability, including clean energy. My conversation with Mayor Sorg gave me some food for thought as PennFuture looks to expand its Clean Energy Communities project beyond Pittsburgh.  Mayor Sorg reminded me that as clean water and clean energy are intrinsic to healthy, thriving communities, the bottom line for elected officials is managing a budget and how important it will be that green solutions and practices are positively impacting those bottom lines.  Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association staff showed up in numbers for some socializing, and several important local activists came out to support the event.

Renowned Penn State climate scientist and PennFuture board member Michael Mann joined us in State College, and there was a lot of talk about climate and politics and how we can tackle the lack of leadership among most elected officials on our issues. I had a chance to reconnect with a woman who shares my name, almost 30 years after we found out the other existed on a bus trip to Washington, D.C. for a rally after the Three Mile Island disaster.  She’s not of blood relation, but she and others who came out for the happy hour share the same DNA for environmental advocacy.

We also had a crowd at the new Yards Brewery in Philadelphia, a business we love because of their commitment to renewable energy. By far, the biggest question we heard over and over was, “What can I do to help?” There’s so much you can do. As I’ve mentioned in past blogs, our Green in ’18 campaign is seeking volunteers through the fall. Our Advocates for Conservation and the Environment (ACE) program is training volunteers to do education on issues and meetings with legislators in district offices. That program is slowly expanding and we’d welcome your help. We also ask that you subscribe to our email list, as your engagement and rapid response to action alerts will allow you to contact your legislators and push them on specific actions when in session, and we will always keep you up to date on the latest environmental legislation moving in Harrisburg.

Thanks to everyone who attended, just to say hello, or to bring important issues to our attention. While PennFuture does not have the capacity to work on every environmental issue in the state, we have concerns after several of these conversations and will be looking into next steps.  

We need you to be our eyes and ears on the ground because our state is large and we cannot be everywhere – as much as we would like to be. In the meantime, we count on you. I want to thank all of the PennFuture board members and President’s Leadership Council members, and ACE volunteers who have joined us thus far. Thanks to the staff who came out, and brought their family members, and significant others with them. I hope to see more of you at future happy hours that are on our calendar for the rest of the summer into spring.


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