PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

False Choices: Why PA Doesn’t Need to Sell Out Health for Dirty Energy Jobs

Since its founding 20 years ago, PennFuture has occupied a unique space in the state, from brokering the most significant policy victories advancing clean energy, to prevailing in legal cases we’ve brought on behalf of communities and individuals fighting for their rights to clean air and pure water.  

This element of accountability has been a common thread weaving through PennFuture’s lifespan, and it extends to elected officials, state and federal agencies, and corporate interests whose actions stymy our work on behalf of our constituents, and our mission to protect the environment. In our view, the environment is not a special interest, it is everyone’s interest.

We have been compelled to extend that accountability to officials in Harrisburg and question why the environment continues to be an almost invisible issue among so many of them. To be certain, there are a handful of state legislators who lead on environmental issues, but they are outnumbered by those who are anti-environmental and anti-regulatory in their votes, actions and words.                             

Pennsylvanians are concerned about their environment. On Jan. 30, PennFuture, the Breathe Collaborative and leading activists from Allegheny and Beaver counties held a press conference and rally in Pittsburgh to oppose the buildout of the petrochemical industry in western Pennsylvania. Afterwards, our Toxic Neighbor petitions, signed by more than 3,000 Pennsylvanians opposed to Shell Appalachia’s $6 billion ethane cracker in Beaver County, were delivered to the governor, state, federal and local legislators and Pittsburgh Regional Alliance.  

Many of these petition recipients champion the “petchem” industry and its promise of jobs. While we acknowledge the opportunity that natural gas under our feet represents when it is exploited, what is the cost of that exploitation and those jobs in terms of taxpayer subsidies, risks to public health, decimation of our forests and streams, and insults to our climate?  

We seek leadership from our policymakers, particularly around creating and supporting opportunities to develop technologies, good paying jobs and our workforce around the clean energy sector. According to January 2017’s U.S. Energy and Employment report, more than 62,000 Pennsylvanians already work in energy efficiency, and more than 7,000 work in solar and wind electric generation. Imagine the economic growth that would result from state elected officials leveling the playing field and offering similar policy support to clean energy industries that will not pollute the air your children breathe. This support is currently provided to polluting industries. We need and deserve leaders who will no longer force voters to choose between pure water to drink - or more jobs. In 2018, we can have both, and we must demand it before it is too late. If Shell is given a $1.65 billion tax break to pollute southwest Pennsylvania in exchange for jobs, why is the same investment not going into clean energy industries? Tax payers deserve better than the threat of increased asthma and cancer rates. Pennsylvania must choose to be a part of the clean energy future that many other states are pursuing.

It’s impossible for us to conjecture who among our elected officials will step up and lead in the arena of clean air, healthy climate and a new clean energy economy, but it is within our power to use our voices and our votes to say loud and clear that leadership among our elected officials is sorely missing.  

Unfortunately, like so much of Pennsylvania’s long history, the modern day coal barons of the natural gas industry have captured many of the institutions that drive economic development in the state, and while it appears to be succeeding beyond all expectations, it is nowhere near finished taking advantage of the hospitable welcome it has received in the form of government subsidies, benevolent permitting and friends in government extolling its virtues and enjoying campaign contributions.  

PennFuture and our allies are championing clean energy as a growth area for economic development and one that will not sentence our people, natural resources and climate to a future that looks poised to replicate the pollution and health impacts we’ve experienced as a result of our fossil fueled past.  We do not need to repeat history when we have better options for the future.


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