Republican candidates for governor spent less than 15 minutes during recent televised debates talking about energy and environmental issues.
Climate change was barely mentioned.
Even though the most recent international climate reports say greenhouse gas emissions must be cut immediately to avoid the worst effects of climate change, those vying for the GOP nomination said they want to ramp up fossil fuel production.
StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Rachel McDevitt reports on where the candidates stand.
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Read the transcript:
RACHEL MCDEVITT: Fourteen years ago, it was a big election year. Global demand pushed gas prices to more than 4 dollars a gallon. And Americans were clamoring for energy independence.
SOUNDBITE: “Drill, baby, drill! Drill, baby, drill!”
RM: Those are chants from a 2008 John McCain campaign rally in Michigan.
Since then, landmark reports on climate change have linked human activity to warming. We’ve marked the hottest years on record and seen devastating wildfires and floods.
And, in part because of Russia’s war with Ukraine, gas is back up to more than 4 dollars a gallon.
SOUNDBITE MASHUP: “Drill, baby, drill.” “You know what we can do for Pennsylvania workers? Drill, baby, drill.” “and we’re going to open up our fracking like you wouldn’t believe it.”
RM: That was, in order, former Congressman Lou Barletta, conservative activist and columnist Charlie Gerow, and State Senator Doug Mastriano during recent debates broadcast by PCN and ABC 27.
Positions on energy and climate among the nine GOP hopefuls vary only a little. All say they want to boost the state’s energy sector to increase jobs and make the country more energy independent.
Gerow says energy jobs create prosperity for all Pennsylvanians.
GEROW: “That means natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, and solar. Not to the exclusion of any of them. We can be all of those things.”
RM: Gerow stands a bit apart from the rest in his all-of-the above strategy.
Even as big automakers have announced plans to go electric, and fossil fuel giants are investing in alternative fuels, most candidates are focused on increasing natural gas production and exporting gas to other states and around the world.
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale says he would do away with any regulations that would hinder the natural gas industry and encourage more pipeline development.
GALE: “Wind power, wind mills, electric vehicles is not the solution, that’s just politics. We need to fix the problem and we can do it by tapping into our natural gas industry.”
RM: Mastriano, a retired Army colonel, says it’s in our national security interest to increase fracking. He’s also promising to dismantle Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s climate efforts–including joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
MASTRIANO: “We’re blessed. It’s time to remove Wolf’s regulations on day one, we’re out of RGGI on day one.”
RM: Businessman and former pipefitter Dave White says he wants to see more pipelines built along interstate right of ways.
WHITE: “That’s how you get economic development across this whole state. It will take it down to the southeast, where we have rivers and we have ports. We can expand that.”
RM: Barletta agrees there needs to be more of an effort to move the gas from wells to refineries.
BARLETTA: “But we have to build the pipelines. Having all this natural gas under our feet without building the pipelines, is like being in college and having a keg of beer without a tap.”
RM: Cardiothoracic surgeon Nche Zama says he wants the commonwealth to be number one in clean energy and clean energy research, but he says the tech isn’t ready for prime time yet. He would focus on three things.
ZAMA: “One-the economy. We can grow it. We have tremendous resources. Two-humanism. People need affordable energy and reliable energy. We have that beneath us. Number three–it’s a security imperative.”
RM: Former Congresswoman Melissa Hart says more gas drilling could help revitalize small towns.
HART: “You’re going to see prosperity across the state, not just in the energy industry, but also more opportunities in small towns, where we have people experienced in manufacturing and can rebuild.”
RM: It’s not necessarily red tape that’s holding back drillers. Drilling companies already own leases in Pennsylvania that they aren’t using.
More drilling would have a limited effect on prices, which depend on many global factors.
As to the prosperity argument, the gas boom took off in the state more than a decade ago. Some communities have benefitted from millions of dollars in impact fees. But many reports reveal people suffering health effects from nearby drilling.
Senate President Jake Corman is also focused on manufacturing. He says we’ll be using fossil fuels for decades and decades to come.
CORMAN: “If you want to improve the environment, bring manufacturing back to Pennsylvania, so we can use natural gas, which is a much cleaner fuel.”
RM: Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain says more fracking is the most important thing the state can do to get its economy moving.
MCSWAIN: “The reduction that we’ve seen over the last two decades have almost all been because of our burning cleaner fuels and natural gas, so if you care about the environment, you want to frack more.”
RM: Natural gas does burn cleaner than coal. And the switch to cheaper gas over the past decade has reduced power sector emissions.
But burning natural gas still releases carbon dioxide emissions. More burning equals more emissions.
And methane leaks are a big concern. The main component of natural gas has a much higher warming power than carbon dioxide.
SOUNDBITE, JOSH SHAPIRO AD: “I’ve spent my life taking on the big and powerful on behalf of those who’ve been wronged.”
RM: Attorney General Josh Shapiro is the only Democrat running for governor.
In a statement, he said he wants to invest in clean energy and clean transportation, adopt the 2020 Grand Jury Report recommendations to minimize health hazards from fracking, and plug the estimated 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells across the state.
All of those would be difficult without the support of the legislature, which is now controlled by Republicans.
Here’s what we asked the candidates:
- Pennsylvania’s Constitution gives citizens, including generations yet to come, the right to a healthy environment. You support loosening regulations on natural gas drilling. A recent grand jury report faulted the state for not doing enough to protect people from the negative impacts of drilling. How would you, as governor, balance protecting the right to a healthy environment while upholding your campaign promise to boost the state’s energy production?
- How would you help communities struggling as a result of long-term trends away from coal transition into today’s economy?
- What measures can be put in place to protect communities from increasingly severe heat, storms and flooding?
- The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change say that human influence has warmed the climate at a rate that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years, that warming is already harming people around the world, and that emissions must be cut dramatically and immediately to avoid catastrophic levels of warming. The reports also say mitigation strategies already exist that can help avoid the worst case scenario. With that information, how do you balance your support of fossil fuel development with the risk to Pennsylvanians’ health, property and standard of living in the face of climate change?
None of the Republican candidates responded. A spokesman for Democrat Josh Shapiro sent a statement.
Join the discussion about climate and Pa. at Climate Solutions.
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.