Problems with Pennsylvania’s Fiscal Code Legislation

by Rev. Mitch Hescox

We are thankful to Pennsylvania’s Governor Wolf for vetoing HB 1327, the fiscal code legislation.  As pro-life Christians, we are deeply concerned for the impacts HB 1327 would have on our children’s health. We have urged the General Assembly to allow this toxic version to fade away and pass a clean fiscal code without amendments.

If the General Assembly were to override Governor Wolf’s veto of HB 1327, this would do the following.

  • Take away $12 million from energy efficiency programs contained in the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide natural gas connection grants.
  • Make it easier to drill near schools, playgrounds, and public water supplies.
  • Allow either chamber of the General Assembly to unilaterally disapprove Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan. This is not only unconstitutional, but would slow down Pennsylvania’s transition to a clean energy future for our children.

Pro-life Christians, in Pennsylvania and across our nation, are calling for new clean energy to defend the life and health of our children. This isn’t some future threat but concern over our children and grandchildren’s lives today.  Already 1 in 3 of our kids have asthma, autism, ADHD, or allergies with direct links to fossil fuels and petrochemicals. That’s why over 70,000 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians have voiced their support for reducing carbon pollution, methane leaks, and producing clean renewable energy.

Here are just a few of the harmful impacts from fossil fuel pollution on our PA kids:

  1. Medical studies from Butler County, PA link natural gas drilling to low birth weight and additional studies point toward potential birth defects.
  2. Methane and carbon pollution force climate change increasing spring and fall temperatures. Rising temperatures have increased the geographic spread of Lyme Disease, making it almost an epidemic according to the Center for Disease Control.
  3. Already much of Pennsylvania’s air is foul. Allegheny, Armstrong, Berks, Blair, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Indiana, Lancaster, Lebanon, Mercer, Northampton, and York all receive flunking grades in ozone and/or particle emissions according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air Report.  And our continued polluted air threatens the health, life, and wellbeing of over 277,000 Pennsylvania’s kids who already struggle to breathe thanks to asthma.
  4. Methane is both a chemical precursor to smog and 26 times more potent greenhouse gas forcing continued temperature rise (increasing ozone). Leaking methane from current, old and abandoned natural gas wells and infrastructure, guarantees that Pennsylvania will never reach safe ozone levels without reducing the leaks in all natural gas infrastructure.

Here’s a look at what happens if the Governor’s veto is overridden:

  1. Robbing Energy Efficiency to Subsidize Natural Gas

HR 1327 would transfer $12 million dollars from energy efficiency programs contained in the Alternative Energy Investment Act to provide grants and loans to businesses, schools, hospitals, and municipalities in order for them to build connections to natural gas pipelines.

While natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel than coal, this provision only serves as another subsidy to the natural gas industry.  With clean renewable energy at or nearly at market parity with natural gas, why cling to the past? Additionally, energy efficiency remains by far the most cost competitive approach. As highlighted in the bipartisan Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, “expanding energy efficiency and renewable energy in a cost-effective way strengthens our states’ economic productivity, reduces air pollution and avoids energy waste.” Extensive research bears out this relationship between clean energy, job creation, and a strong economy – and also makes clear that expanding clean energy and energy efficiency is likely to lower Pennsylvanians’ electricity bills.[i]

Clean energy results in good jobs. An Environmental Entrepreneurs and Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance report states over 57,000 clean energy jobs in Pennsylvania at over 4,200 businesses—and a majority of those work in energy efficiency.[ii]  Compare clean energy employment now and its potential versus the approximately 7,000 coal mining jobs left in Pennsylvania. Future economic vitality must move beyond past and embrace a clean energy future.

As good stewards of all God has given us including caring for His creation, we want the freedom to choose our own energy including the ability to produce our own electricity through rooftop solar without restrictions that favor monopoly utilities or the massive tax breaks provided to the fossil fuel industry.  According to an April 2015 report by Penn Environment, Pennsylvania provided more than $3.2 billion in fossil fuels subsidies during fiscal year 2012-2013.[iii]  While this report includes many standard deductions applicable to most businesses, it’s easy to delineate unique breaks for the fossil fuel industry at amounts of $500 million or more per year.

For conservatives like us, Pennsylvania’s subsidies for energy are an affront to our values.  In a state that isn’t educating our kids and can’t agree on a state budget, taking at least $500 million per year out of our pockets is quite frankly and simply wrong.  Especially, when the Legislature fails to consider a state natural gas excise or extraction fee that leaves at least another $200 million dollars (over the existing impact fees) in the pockets of the natural gas industry. Even Texas collects an extraction tax and uses the funds for public education.

  1. Drilling Near Schools, Playgrounds, and Public Water Supplies

In another handout to the oil and gas industry, HB-1327 vacated over four years of efforts by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to update environmental protection performance standards at oil and gas well sites.  While HB-1327 only negates the conventional oil and gas operations sections, it will be hard to separate the new 78a for unconventional wells (fracking) as they are contained in the same rule making process.

The new DEP regulations would limit, until review, drilling near schools, playgrounds, public water supplies, old wells, or other areas that have potential public impact.  The new standards would also require any polluted water to be restored to pre-drilling quality, and better spill notification and management.  By trying to gut these new regulations, the Pennsylvania General Assembly again wishes to protect the fossil fuel industry instead of our children.

  1. An Unconstitutional Effort to Kill Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan

The final problem refers to the continuing attempts to delay the study, process, and drafting of a Pennsylvania State Implementation Plan for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.  To move Pennsylvania into the clean energy future, DEP should continue the state planning process to implement the Clean Power Plan.

Pennsylvania has been a national leader on implementation, and was accepted into the National Governors Association “Policy Academy” to analyze and model what compliance approaches will work best for the Commonwealth.  PA’s DEP has collected more stakeholder input on Clean Power Plan compliance than any other state, putting us in a strong position to move ahead.

As a result of its planning and engagement with stakeholders, DEP is now uniquely positioned to finish a state plan with a relatively small commitment of time and resources, as opposed to the loss of momentum and focus it would face if Pennsylvania were to stop.  To restart at a later date would be costly and foolish.

Additionally, failing to move forward with a state plan could ultimately make Clean Power Plan compliance more difficult for Pennsylvania. The start-date for generators’ compliance obligations will likely remain 2022.  States that postpone planning until after federal litigation could find themselves with much less time to develop a thoughtful state plan that works for their communities, workers, and generators, with less time for these stakeholders to comply.  DEP will develop a “least-cost compliance approach to benefit consumers of electricity,” as required by law, and the sooner DEP does so, the sooner we can address head-on the ongoing transformation of the state’s power sector, protect Pennsylvania’s consumers and the communities in the state’s coal regions, and ensure reliability for the electric grid.

During PA DEP’s public comment period on the state plan last fall, more than 2,000 citizens, generators, businesses, trade groups, legislators, faith groups, and non-profit organizations filed written comments or testified at 14 public listening sessions throughout the commonwealth.

More than 80 percent of commenters said they wanted the state to expand clean energy, more than 90 percent expressed support for the DEP’s development of a tailored state plan, and almost 70 percent said they wanted Pennsylvania to submit its implementation plan to EPA on time.

These figures reflect bipartisan polling from Public Opinion Strategies in 2014, which found that 82% of Pennsylvanians endorsed a state-crafted plan to curb carbon pollution, while even higher percentages wanted more investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Clearly Pennsylvanians, including pro-life Christians, want their leaders to develop a plan that transitions away from dirty energy sources and focuses on clean, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. DEP should continue its efforts to plan for a clean energy future in Pennsylvania that protects health and the environment and strengthens our economy. We strongly oppose any legislation that delays DEP efforts to develop a state compliance plan.

Now is not the time to take away money from schools for energy efficiency; nor is it the time to make it easier to drill near schools.  Rather, now is the time to create a healthy future for our children powered by clean energy, and Pennsylvania’s Clean Power Plan will help bring about this future.

Instead of partisan divides, let’s work together for a clean energy future that protects our kids, gives them a healthy future, and allows the market to determine our energy future.

Rev. Mitch Hescox is the President of the Evangelical Environmental Network. He and his family live in New Freedom, PA. 

[i] See also Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., Bill Savings in a Clean Energy Future (July 23, 2015, revised October 26, 2015), available at http://www.synapse-energy.com/sites/default/files/Bill-Savings-in-a-Clean-Energy-Future.pdf and Brown et al., Low-Carbon Pathways for the U.S. and the South: an Assessment of Costs and Options (Georgia Institute of Technology, July, 2015), available at http://spp.gatech.edu/sites/default/files/publication/download/Low-Carbon_Pathway.pdf

[ii] http://cleanenergyworksforus.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/CleanJobsPennsylvania.pdf

[iii] http://www.pafossilfuelhandouts.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/FossilFuelSubsidyReport_PennFuture.pdf

 

A Major Step Forward for Pure Air & a Healthy Future for Our Kids

A Statement by the Rev. Mitch Hescox
President/CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN)

In a major victory for cleaner air and overcoming climate change, the U.S. Court of Appeals today rejected a stay requested by opponents seeking to block implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan (CPP), which will cut dangerous carbon pollution from America’s power plants.  The Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) is grateful the Court did the right thing; reducing such pollution must move forward without delay.

Last year EEN submitted over 300,000 comments from pro-life Christians in support of regulating carbon from existing coal-burning power plants.  Here is their message that the court supported today:

As pro-life Christians, we urge the EPA to protect life and God’s creation by reducing carbon pollution and toxic emissions from existing coal burning power plants.  We ask the EPA to provide maximum flexibility to states as to how they will cut emissions, including options such as a pollution fee that could cut other taxes. It is time for our leaders to act for the sake of our children’s health, the most vulnerable among us, and His beautiful creation.

EPA listened to our comment sense requests when the rule was finalized last July and the flexibility afforded in the standard allows each state to design a plan that works for each state and their most precious resource, children.

Climate Change represents the greatest threat to life and the greatest opportunity for hope of our generation and the generations yet to come.  Reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants will protect children from health impacts and help lead to cleaner air and purer water.  Starting to place a real cost on carbon through the CPP will be a major impetus for a clean energy future that creates good jobs and continues to position our country as the world’s innovative business leader.  We must stop subsiding power companies with health of our kids and correct the market failure of fossil fuels.

 

Senator Casey Supports Climate Action and the Clean Power Plan

by Alexei Laushkin

Starting with the chorus of the hymn, All Creatures of Our God and King – the paraphrased words of St. Francis of Assisi, Senator Robert Casey (D,PA) announced support for President Obama’s Climate Action Plan including The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan at Eastern University.  The statement came as the Senator moderated a panel discussion on Friday, September 18, 2015 at the university’s St. Davids, PA Campus.

Surrounded by a Catholic Sister, Evangelical Biologist, Catholic Theologian. Catholic Mom and EEN’s President, Rev. Mitch Hescox, Senator Casey stated, “Our Faith should guide and inspire our decisions.”  Referencing Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato si’, The Bible, The Evangelical Climate Initiative’s Climate Change: An Evangelical Call To Action and the Lausanne Movement For World Evangelism’s Cape Town Commitment,  all panelists supported Senator Casey’s announcement and continually referred climate change as a moral imperative and not a political issue.

“So, needless to say, I am delighted to be here today to applaud you, Senator Casey, a fellow Catholic, for your support of the Clean Power Plan. As a PA Senator this is not an easy position to take politically. However, morally it is the best position,” stated Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark.

Thanking the Senator for his announcement, EEN’s Hescox said, “Climate Change is the greatest moral challenge of our time as it already impacts all of God’s children throughout His creation.  However it also the greatest opportunity for hope.  With less than 7000 coal mining jobs left in Pennsylvania, it’s time to rebuild Pennsylvania with a clean energy economy.  Renewable energy jobs throughout United States are growing dramatically and already employ more workers than the coal industry.” “How can we continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry at the rate we do?  As a lifelong Republican, we are propping a dying industry and that’s unfair to the market,” Hescox continued.

The panelists continually referenced the need for a just transition for the loss of coal jobs, while highlighting the children’s health threats, national security implications arising from food and water scarcity worldwide, and biblical imperative to steward God’s creation.

The discussion entitled, “Faith, Children, and the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change” was sponsored by Eastern University, The Evangelical Environmental Network, and Moms Clean Air Force.   Panelists in addition to Senator Casey included: Dr.  Daniel P. Scheid, Assistant Professor of Theology, Duquesne University; Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark, SSJ. The Sisters of Saint Joseph Earth Center; Dr. David W. Unander, Professor of Biology, Eastern University Haynes; Ms. Gretchen Dahlkemper, Field Director, Mom’s Clean Air Force, and The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, President, The Evangelical Environmental Network.

Evangelicals Support President Obama’s EPA Climate Change Regulation

PRESS RELEASE

July 30, 2015

Over 170 senior evangelical leaders from across the country sent President Obama a letter offering their support for his leadership on climate change, specifically for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) carbon pollution regulation known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP) to be released next week.  They joined nearly 230,000 pro-life Christians who sent supportive messages to the EPA in favor of the regulation.

In agreement with Pope Francis, the evangelical leaders see addressing climate change as an act of Christian love.  Their letter, dated July 30, states:

We see overcoming the climate challenge as one of the great moral opportunities of our time, a chance to fulfill the Great Commandments to love God, our neighbors, and ourselves.  It is God’s love that calls all of us to take on this challenge.  That is why we write to offer our support and encouragement for your efforts to overcome the climate challenge.

Evangelicals are often seen as in opposition to President Obama.  “Though we have our differences, the climate challenge is too important for us not to work together to defend our children and all of God’s children around the world,” said the Rev. Mitch Hescox, President/CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN).  “We know addressing climate change will help create a clean energy future with clean air, pure water, and good jobs.”

Other key parts of the evangelical community are also supporting President Obama and the EPA.

“Hispanic evangelicals recognize the importance of being good stewards of creation and these actions from the administration resonate with such a belief,” said the Rev. Dr. Emilio Marrero, Chair of EEN’s Board and Vice President of Esperanza, one of the leading hispanic Christian organizations in the country.  Polls have consistently shown that a majority of hispanics are concerned about climate change, and a recent one showed that 58% considered climate action an important issue for the 2016 presidential election.

Young evangelicals are also supporting President Obama and the EPA. “Our generation has only known a warming world,” said Rachel Lamb of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (Y.E.C.A.).  “We’re grateful for President Obama’s leadership on climate change, and we hope other political leaders will work to protect our future and the poor by addressing the climate crisis.”

In his Encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis states that “love moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a ‘culture of care’ which permeates all of society” (para. 231).

“We couldn’t agree more,” said Rev. Hescox.  “We see the Clean Power Plan as one of the ‘larger strategies to halt environmental degradation’ that Pope Francis talks about.”

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The Clear Case for Supporting the Clean Power Plan

The Rev. Dr. Emilio Marrero and The Rev. Mitch Hescox

The need for climate action is an urgent imperative, and a moral obligation for all people of faith. Why? Because climate action is about defending human life. That’s the key message in Pope Francis’ Encyclical, LAUDATO SI’, issued recently.  The Encyclical from one of Christianity’s most popular and influential leaders provides a capstone and unifying moment for all Christians.

Pope Francis is not alone in understanding humanity’s perils from climate change. He stands in solidarity with over 300 evangelicals, like Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and us who signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative in 2006 and other Christian leaders who understand climate change as a humanitarian cause, and its biblical importance to all Christian traditions.  For Christians with eyes to see and ears to listen, they know the suffering is already harming our kids and God’s children around the world.

While a shrinking few still try to deny the scientific reality of climate change, Americans and people overseas daily face the impacts of our warming world. And the most tragically harmed now are the world’s poorest populations who have contributed the least to greenhouse gas pollution. We need to care for the least of these, who the Bible commands us to care about most.

Every child, born and yet-to-be born, deserves the promise and holy covenant of clean air and a healthy climate. Yet, one in three children in America has autism, ADHD, asthma, or allergies all directly linked to fossil fuels and petrochemicals.  Pollution from dirty vehicles and power generation is literally taking their breath away, and action is needed to help protect our kids and other susceptible populations, like the elderly.  Over 277,000 of Pennsylvania’s kids suffer from asthma and a warming world makes their lives much worse.

We need hope for a better world, and our goal is to make hope happen.  The clean energy transition is now unstoppable according to the most respected business voices in the world.  We will replace dirty fuels with clean energy that will rekindle our economy and be the greatest wealth generator in history.  Clean energy will help purify our air and water, replace energy poverty with prosperity, help billions to read as they gain access to light, and generate the greatest opportunity for sustainable life.

The developing world is deploying renewables over old-fashioned fossil-fuel power. Solar installations are doubling every two years, with developing countries installing renewable energy projects at nearly double the rate of developed nations. In fact, global emissions of carbon dioxide flat-lined in 2014, while the global economy grew that same year. It was the first time in 40 years that we experienced a halt or reduction in carbon dioxide emissions without an economic downturn, according to the International Energy Agency.

However we need more than a clean energy transition; we need a clean energy revolution.  Our revolution means removing the roadblocks that empower individuals to have energy freedom and choose who and how they purchase energy.  We must invest in new technologies that yield higher energy efficiencies, and unleash the power of American innovation. Lastly, we must establish public policies that correct failures in our markets.

Around the world, governments subsidize fossil fuels to the amount of $550 billion a year in direct subsidizes, tax breaks, and unrealized health costs.  (The same governments including the US provide $100 billion in renewable subsidies.) While we can’t force all governments to make changes, we (the US) can lead.

Our first step must be to support the soon to be finalized EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP starts to assist in correcting our markets by limiting carbon pollution.  This action slows warming and will protect today’s public and future generations from the health dangers of burning dirty fossil fuels, while helping America steer clear of a dangerously warming future filled with food and water shortages as well as growing threats to our homes, economy and infrastructure.

Let’s make hope happen by transforming the clean energy transition into a revolution. It’s time for people of all faiths to demand the smart, ethical and affordable policies for a new energy economy that defends our kids today and provides for their tomorrow.  Our children’s health and life have always been a priority for Florida. Let’s keep it that by asking our public leaders to defend our kids, come up with solutions that work, and provide for their future by working for a clean energy future.  Caring for God’s creation is a matter of life and an act in following Christ.

The Rev. Dr. Marrero is VP of National Programs, Esperanza, Philadelphia, PA and The Rev. Hescox is President of The Evangelical Environmental Network, New Freedom, PA.

Richmond Pastors Prayer Breakfast

by Alexei Laushkin

Yesterday morning a number of pastors from around Richmond gathered for a prayer breakfast on creation-care and the Clean Power Plan. We were honored to have Levar Stoney the Secretary of the Commonwealth for Governor Terry McAuliffe in attendance with us. We prayed for Levar and gave him a bible continuing the signatures of 35+ pastors who were calling on the Governor to reduce carbon pollution and help ensure energy freedom in the commonwealth. The full statement form the pastors is reproduced below.

Levar Stoney Secretary of the Commonwealth receiving the bible for the Governor.

Levar Stoney Secretary of the Commonwealth receiving the bible for the Governor.

Click here to view a short segment from the sermon I delivered that morning.

Richmond Ministers Calling for the Leadership of ‘Caleb’

In the account of the Exodus, God’s people had a bright future ahead of them, if they only would trust in the Lord and lean not on their own understanding. The days of wandering in the desert aren’t too different than the days we inhabit. Then like now, the challenges seemed stacked against us. Then like now, people doubted and didn’t have faith that God would provide a way through his people. Then like now, God still has more to do with each of us.

In the book of Numbers we find the account of Caleb. Moses through God led the Israelite refugees through Sinai to the edge of “The Promised Land.” He then sends twelve men to explore this land of milk and honey. After 40 days, they return. One, Caleb, sees the hope for a better future. The other eleven forget what God has already accomplished and ferment yet another fearful revolt against God and Moses ” crying out, “If only we had died in Egypt.”

Returning to Egypt was an oft repeated demand throughout the Exodus. For many of us when faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges, we want to separate, go back, go our own way often without God’s guidance or leading.

Whether we like to admit it ” most of us fear change. That’s where we stand today when it comes to climate change.

According to the American Lung Association State of the Air Report, 35.6 million kids in the United States live in areas with unhealthy air. In Richmond alone, the number of children with pediatric asthma exceeds an astounding 24,000. The childhood epidemics of asthma, autism, AHDH, and allergies impact as many as 1 in 3 children in the United States, with strong links to the overuse of unclean fossil fuel-based energy. We in the developed world have benefited greatly from our past energy sources, but not without costs borne by our children’s health. The decision to be stewards of our children’s health is ours. Today we stand on the precipice of a clean energy revolution – one that could provide energy freedom for all, grow our economy, empower families to generate their own energy, protect our children’s health, and protect national security. This isn’t an illusion or pipedream. Business giant Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says the clean energy transition is now self-sustaining and inevitable.

The Clean Power Plan will help us get to this future, and that’s why we are calling on Governor McAuliffe to lead. We urge Governor McAuliffe to boldly embrace his opportunity to implement limits on carbon pollution from power plans so that we can protect our future generations. It’s time to be a Caleb.