Prove your humanity

The question is whether they have the will to do it.

“‘Past is prologue’ is a lot of what I say happens in Harrisburg,” said Ezra Thrush, director of government affairs for PennFuture.

The General Assembly’s Republican leadership hasn’t yet discussed legislative priorities for the upcoming term, which started Jan. 5. So, it’s not clear whether or which environmental or climate-change related legislation could be considered this session.

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But Thrush said, because the makeup of the legislature didn’t change with the November election and Republicans will hold control for Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s last two years in office, he expects his organization will continue to play defense against some efforts.

Those include attempted regulatory rollbacks and incentives for the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries. Thrush also expects more argument over joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and what to do with the proceeds from the cap-and-trade program if Pennsylvania were to join.

Thrush said it’s possible that leadership changes in the House and Senate, and at the federal level, could create a different chemistry that will allow both sides to work together.

Environmentalists hope some bipartisan efforts that didn’t become law in the 2019-20 session will get another chance.

Measures to improve water quality, allow community-scale solar projects, and to guide electric vehicle infrastructure development had support that bridged the aisle, but often died in committee.

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Aiming Higher

David Hess, who was Secretary of Environmental Protection under Republican Governors Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker and now runs a blog on Pennsylvania environmental issues, is hoping for a higher level of ambition.

He said lawmakers need to have a much broader discussion on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, without all the political posturing that has accompanied these debates.

Hess argues that some actions to benefit the environment would help the state’s economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic. He said projects in farm conservation, mine reclamation, and recreation have a high return on investment, because people see the benefits in their communities.

He’s also hoping lawmakers will try to protect Pennsylvanians by passing pipeline safety measures and investing in the state’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Program.

“I’m not saying that all these things aren’t controversial, I’m not saying that there aren’t different sides of these different issues,” Hess said, “but these are leadership opportunities that people have in front of them.”

A representative for American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania, which represents the oil and natural gas industry, was unable to comment on its legislative priorities in time for this story.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.