Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues
This month has turned out to be an extraordinary time for all of us who care deeply about our environment.
We are beginning to see important shifts in power, both in the political realm and in the realm of our democracy in action. These shifts must become more pronounced, and must be sustained if we are to win back the safeguards that ensure cleaner air and water. The attempted theft of these hard-won laws, regulations and rights seems finally to be slowing. It is up to all of us to continue the fight, and hasten the shift back to a sane and balanced Commonwealth, where citizens can determine their clean energy future, assisted by responsible elected officials.
Thanks to the diligent and inspiring leadership of PennFuture’s former director of policy, recently named Vice President and Chief of Staff Matt Stepp, along with Joanne Kilgour, director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of Sierra Club, and other groups active on the legislative front, we saw a near-disastrous state budget season turn net-positive.
Not only was the environmental community able to fight off horrendous proposals to fundamentally change the state’s approach to environmental permitting, and to stop raids on environmental funding, we had a win. We secured legislation to “close the borders” on solar credits. This means that solar energy that gets counted towards Pennsylvania’s clean energy goals must be generated within our state, somewhat incentivizing solar production right here at home. These measures were fought and won with the help of a cohesive and core group of pro-environmental legislators, who joined with PennFuture in taking a firm stand against the antis, holding that first line of defense, and perhaps for the first time, hanging tough as a core group to win the day.
This month also saw diverse and pro-environmental candidates winning in the general election. A former Riverkeeper is now mayor of York. Every one of the candidates endorsed by our partner organization, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, prevailed, and my colleague there, CVPA Executive Director Josh McNeil, is ready to bring more environmentally friendly candidates into the critical 2018 elections.
In Western Pennsylvania, PennFuture’s Toxic Neighbor campaign had material impact on holding to account the most egregious air polluter in the region – U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. Recently joining me in speaking before the Allegheny County Health Department board and staff were a group of tenacious, smart and strategic community leaders who have been fighting for cleaner air in Pittsburgh for many years. Volunteer leaders with powerful messages are emerging through this campaign, including East End resident Lisa Minetti, who joined forces with PennFuture to write an op-ed that appeared in the Sunday edition of the Nov. 12th Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Lisa’s voice, our collective work, and this campaign is beginning to make a difference.
Two weeks ago, we saw a glimpse of leadership from the Allegheny County Health Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency when the agencies issued a notice of violation to U.S. Steel around another abomination in our right to clean air, the Edgar Thomson steel mill. And on Sunday, Nov. 19, we saw the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette state in an editorial that these continued air quality violations by U.S. Steel “cannot stand.”
Finally, emerging from the COP23 Climate Change Conference is a very important group of Pennsylvania mayors from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Allentown, Ambler, Bethlehem, Easton, Ferguson Township, Lancaster, Swarthmore and West York Borough. These mayors have stated their commitment to support local climate action in the absence of federal and state leadership.
Is the tide truly turning? Do we have the collective will and energy to keep this momentum going? Can we beat back the next volley of anti-environmental measures that the legislature will surely try to put in place to protect the interest of the fossil fuel industry? Will more pro-environment leaders emerge in communities, to speak out, or stand for elected office? Will more climate-conscious mayors take their communities’ clean energy future into their own hands and stand with the Paris Climate Agreement? Will more elected officials join that core of pro-climate and pro-public health legislators and fight alongside PennFuture? The answer must be yes.
As I transition from running PennFuture, as its former Chief Operating Officer, to leading PennFuture as its president, I want you to know that I, and the rest of the staff, are privileged to lead the state’s top watchdog for clean air, water and a healthy climate. Every day, we embrace our work, and the trust you have in us, with energy, passion and seriousness. We know you look to us for leadership, and turn to us for good information and assistance.
Know that we look to you, too, for inspiration. You are making a difference with every vote you cast, every letter you write, every conversation you have with your family, friends or colleagues. With every check you write supporting PennFuture, with every solar panel you install, or light bulb you change out, and with your social media activism, you make a difference. So, keep up the good work, and I assure you that we at PennFuture will do the same.