The race to fill Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat is one of the most closely-watched in the country. It will help determine the balance of power in Washington.
Climate policy is not getting much attention in the race, even as President Biden’s climate agenda has been held up by the current, split Senate.
StateImpact Pennsylvania’s Rachel McDevitt has this round-up of the candidates’ positions.
LISTEN to the story
RACHEL MCDEVITT: For the first time in 2020, climate change was a major issue in the presidential race, especially on the Democratic side.
ARCHIVAL TAPE, RACHEL MADDOW: “Quickly, Vice President Biden, you were named checked there, I’d like to give you the chance to respond.”
JOE BIDEN: “Yeah, I was. I think it is the existential threat to humanity, it’s the number one issue.”
RM: But the topic is now taking a back seat to others that seem more pressing–such as Russia’s war with Ukraine and inflation. That’s even as scientists say the chances of avoiding catastrophic warming shrink with each passing day. In Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary, the candidates agree that climate change is a crisis. Malcolm Kenyatta, who is in his second term as a state representative, is framing himself as the environmental champion in the race. During a debate broadcast by PCN, he called for a ban on new drilling permits.
KENYATTA: “What I do support is actually making sure that we don’t give one cent more in tax breaks to big polluters and actually put our investments into clean technologies of the future.”
RM: Kenyatta wants to make sure the federal government pushes emission-free energy industries that will create union jobs. He also wants to address disparities caused by siting polluting plants near low income areas. Lt. Governor John Fetterman’s website mentions environmental justice and the need to address climate change, without details. His stance on fracking has changed over the years. When running for Senate in 2016, he said he supported a moratorium on new fracking. Now he supports expanding production in the short term.
FETTERMAN: “We need to have American energy. We need to transition to make investments to make green American energy on an ongoing basis and evolve towards that, but right now our energy security is paramount.”
RM: Western Pennsylvania Congressman Conor Lamb has said lawmakers need to maximize the benefits of natural gas for people who have been left behind by other industries. He supports looking to alternative energy sources long term, as well as an increase in drilling now to try to lower fuel prices for people, and to help allies in Europe.
LAMB: “You gotta realize that we drill for both oil and natural gas and both of those things have been taken off the world market in enormous quantities because of the war in Ukraine.” RM: Alex Khalil, a Jenkintown borough councilor, emphasizes environmental stewardship as fossil fuels continue to be used.
KHALIL: “If you get rid of the fracking, you get rid of oil, how are we going to manufacture and keep jobs in Pennsylvania.” RM: She’s also calling for all Americans to get royalty checks from extractive activity on public land. On the Republican side, candidates have rarely been challenged on climate change. During a forum in Erie, former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick accused TV personality Mehmet Oz of being against fracking.
MCCORMICK: “You’ve argued for more regulation in fracking, you’ve made the case that there’s health defects from fracking and you’ve argued for a moratorium in Pennsylvania that’s like in New York–”
OZ: “I’m sorry that’s not true.”
RM: Oz has tried to show his support for fracking–like in this TikTok video he posted in March.
OZ: “So stop ignoring the science, and cast aside Biden’s woke energy agenda, which steals our jobs, increases inflation, and makes us dependent on hostile nations.”
RM: StateImpact sent a list of energy and climate-related questions to all 11 candidates. Of the four Democrats, Kenyatta and Khalil answered. Of the seven Republicans, only one responded. Philadelphia attorney George Bochetto says it’s in Pennsylvania’s interest to develop the natural gas industry to the greatest degree possible. He says he’d work to undo outdated policies that limit shipping between U-S ports, so liquefied natural gas could be transported more easily. On climate change, he says the U-S should put more pressure on countries like China and India to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
BOCHETTO: “We need to go beyond the Paris Agreements and the limitations of those and really bring pressure on some of these errant nations to step up and do a much better job.”
RM: The other republicans running are commentator Kathy Barnette, real estate developer Jeff Bartos, attorney Sean Gale, and Carla Sands–an investment company CEO and former ambassador to Denmark under President Donald Trump. Their campaign websites are short on energy policy details. Most say they support ‘energy independence.’ That’s a somewhat vague term. By measures of exports and imports, the U-S is already energy independent, but it still feels the effects of the global marketplace. Rachel McDevitt, StateImpact Pennsylvania.
- Pennsylvania – U.S. Senate: A guide to the 2022 primary election and candidates
- Pennsylvania governor candidates support fossil fuels, ignore climate in runup to primary
- WESA Voter Guide
StateImpact sent a brief questionnaire to all the candidates to seek more details about their positions on energy and climate issues. Of the four Democratic candidates, Malcolm Kenyatta and Alex Khalil responded. Of the seven Republicans, only George Bochetto answered. Their responses are below. The candidates gave their answers verbally. The responses have been edited for clarity.
As a U.S. Senator, how would you help ensure the country meets its climate goals under the Paris Agreement?
What forms of energy should be encouraged to achieve national energy independence? How would you encourage them as a U.S. Senator?
What should the federal government do to help communities struggling as a result of long-term trends away from coal transition into today’s economy?
What measures should the federal government take to protect communities from increasingly severe disasters, such as storms, flooding, fires, and heat waves?
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.