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Pennsylvania House Asks: Could We Live Without Fossil Fuels? We Say: We Must.

by John Ukenye, Policy Analyst

The only thing more destructive than the fumes from fossil fuels extracted in PA is the fumes of the trillions of taxpayer dollars up in flames by the constant shilling to fossil fuel boosters in the form of disinformation-laden hearings in our State Capitol. 

On March 28, 2022, the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee held an industry-friendly hearing titled “Could We Live Without Fossil Fuels?” Phrases such as “natural gas and oil are essential to life” uttered by Rep. Mike Armanini and “we cannot go back to living like the colonials and Native Americans” stated by both Chairman Daryl Metcalfe and panelist David Taylor polluted the air of the meeting room. Metcalfe asks in the title of this hearing “could we live without fossil fuels?” and the answer is not “we could,” “we couldn’t,” or even “we should;” but instead: we must.

The panelists, which were all (and only) representatives of the fossil fuel industry including the American Petroleum lnstitute (API), Marcellus Shale Coalition, Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA), American Refining Group, and Pennsylvania Chemical lndustry Council. These panelists were aided throughout the hearing by the majority chairman and his caucus. 

This hearing repeated tired, frequently-debunked talking points about the “necessity” of fossil fuel-based products in the American consumer’s daily life. However, as Minority Chair Greg Vitali correctly pointed out, roughly 80 percent of each barrel of oil extracted is used for gasoline or other fuel, while the rest goes to other petrochemical products such as those used in household items. Rep. Danielle Friel Otten and Rep. Joe Hohenstein also pushed back on the “necessity” of these products and assertions by the panelists that “no viable alternative” exists. With increased research and development, environmentally sustainable household products are increasing in availability and lowering in price. In regards to baby products, an area of much discussion at this hearing, there is no shortage of products that are both sustainable and actually safer for mothers and their newborns than petrochemical based products. 

Another heavy focus of the hearing was medical devices, and the current reliance on petrochemicals in their production. The panelists, aided by majority representatives, argued that “viable alternatives” do not exist to the current medical products. This is largely false, as roadmaps and suggestions to manufacturing more sustainable medical devices and products have existed for years.

However, what is lacking is larger-scale investment, development, and research which would lead to such products becoming less expensive and more widely available. 

Rep. Bud Cook, a member of the majority, raised an interesting question – whether the panelists could speak to the perspectives of employees in the fossil fuel industry and how their work impacts the environment in which they live. Metcalfe quickly interrupted Cook, rephrasing the question to whether the panelists could speak to the “necessary” petrochemical based products used in fishing and outdoorsman equipment. PennFuture has long researched and written about the impacts of fossil fuel extraction on vulnerable, front-line communities including, but not limited to, rural and working-class populations largely served by members of the majority in Harrisburg.

In Rep. Cook’s Washington and Fayette County constituencies, residents fall victim to pipeline explosions, gas leaks, air pollution, and water contamination due to continued fossil fuel extraction. PennFuture also maintains the position that fossil fuels and petrochemicals are not the key to revitalizing regions that both Rep. Metcalfe and Rep. Cook serve. Alternative, “green-collar” job opportunities are growing worldwide and present enormous economic opportunities for Appalachia, and instead of chasing a dying industry, Pennsylvania would be best served leading the path into the new, green economy. 

This hearing, at its basis, presents a false dichotomy: invest in fossil fuels or live like those in the colonial era. As Minority Chair Vitali aptly noted, “that is ridiculous.” As for the remark about Native Americans made by Metcalfe and some in the panel, Rep. Hohenstein made a noteworthy retort. Hohenstein cited the Seventh Generation Principle, based on an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy. This Principle states that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

While we seek cheap and quick solutions to our energy needs today, we are leaving a dead planet for our children tomorrow unless we make swift investments in the emerging green economy. As the representative from API said in this hearing: “we all breathe the same air, we all drink the same water, and we want a clean environment” – and it is time we put our money where our mouth is and act like we believe this while we still can. 

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