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

 

Senate Shows Bipartisan Leadership on Green Climate Fund

Statement by Rev. Mitch Hescox:

We are thankful to Senator Kirk (R-IL), Collins (R-ME), Merkley (D-OR), and Udall (D-NM) for their bipartisan efforts in support of the Green Climate Fund.  “In this unfortunate period of extreme partisan politics, it’s a blessing to see four senators reach across the aisle to care of the ‘least of these,’” stated The Rev. Mitch Hescox, EEN’s President.

The four Senators issued a letter earlier this week in support of the Green Climate Fund (GCF). GCF is a non-United Nations Fund to assist majority world nations both adapt to climate change impacts and grow their economics with clean energy.

“The bipartisan letter provides hope that our elected leaders are hearing the moral and biblical call to care for all God’s children and His creation,” said the Rev. Mitch Hescox, “America has always offered our support to those in need, and the letter displays American moral leadership in mitigating and adapting to our changing climate.”

The Senators’ action is in line with the Evangelical Climate Initiative, The Lausanne Movement’s Cape Town Commitment, and Pope Francis’ Encyclical, LAUDATO SI.   As the Lausanne Movement’s (founded by Billy Graham and John Stott) states:

Probably the most serious and urgent challenge faced by the physical world now is the threat of climate change. This will disproportionately affect those in poorer countries, for it is there that climate extremes will be most severe and where there is little capability to adapt to them. World poverty and climate change need to be addressed together and with equal urgency.

Significant Commitment Made to Reduce Methane from Existing Sources 

Statement by Rev. Mitch Hescox:

“Today in a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, President Obama announced that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will begin to develop regulations for methane pollution from existing oil and gas resources. A White House statement said that the EPA ‘will move as expeditiously as possible to complete this task.’

Nearly 92,000 pro-life Christians from 21 states have called for elected officials to reduce methane pollution from existing sources. As such, we applaud this positive leadership from President Obama and the EPA.

As pro-life Christians, we have a special concern for the unborn. We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution even before they take their first breath. Studies have shown that smog, VOCs, and air toxics have a disproportionate impact upon life in the womb. Leaks in our natural gas infrastructure spew out smog precursors, as well as other toxic pollutants and cancer-causing agents like benzene.

We want the unborn and those yet to be born to have a world free of dangerous climate change. Yet today from or natural gas infrastructure large amounts of methane are being released, a climate pollutant 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 20 year timeframe. And it is what we do over the next 20 years that will determine whether our struggle to overcome climate change will be won or lost. That is why reducing methane pollution is morally strategic.” 

Pro-Life Christians Support BLM Proposed Natural Gas Standard

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

Today the Bureau of Land Management proposed new standards for natural gas waste from flaring, venting, and leaks from production operations on public and Indian lands.  We applaud the BLM’s actions and are thankful this standard will help defend our children from the threats that fugitive methane releases have on our unborn and born children.

As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn.  We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution, pollution that impacts them even before they take their first breath.  The medical community has long known of the environmental impacts on our unborn children. The once thought chemical protection a mother gives her developing child is untrue. Studies have shown that smog, VOCs, and air toxics have a disproportionate impact upon life in the womb. A recent study by Shaina L. Stacy and others at the University of Pittsburgh found evidence of low birthweight babies associated with proximity to unconventional natural gas wells in Butler County, PA,[1] and Lisa M. McKenzie, Colorado School of Public Health, published peer reviewed research linking birth defects to methane production.[2]  The authors admit more research is needed, but the initial conclusions in of themselves demand action to reduce natural gas releases.

In addition to wasting enough natural gas to heat 5.1 million homes, the venting and leaks spew out smog precursors as well and, as such, add to our failing air quality.  The United States has 35.1 million kids with asthma according to the American Lung Association and much of our nation’s air exceeds limits for both ozone (smog) and particulates (soot) emissions, making the need to stop natural gas leaks urgent.

These leaks threaten our most vulnerable, as shared earlier, and also add to climate disruption. We want our loved ones, the unborn, and those yet to be born to inherit a world free of climate change.  Yet, today from our natural gas infrastructure large amounts of methane are being released, a climate pollutant 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide, trapping heat over a 20 year time frame. These next 20 years that will determine whether our struggle to overcome climate change will be won or lost.  That is why reducing methane is morally strategic.

For these reasons, 177,687 pro-life Christians from primarily CO, NM, OH, and PA, told the Obama Administration they wanted action on natural gas leaks.

As pro-life Christians, we want the air that we breathe to be safe for our children. Leaks in our natural gas infrastructure spew out toxic pollutants, cancer-causing agents and climate pollution that place God’s creation and our families – especially children, pregnant mothers, and the unborn – in harm’s way. That’s why we call on our elected officials to support strong regulations to cut this pollution from both new and existing leaks from our natural gas infrastructure. Our children deserve nothing less.

If we care for our children, now and in the future, let’s work together to reduce methane and other pollutants that foul our air, our water and most importantly our children’s lives. It’s the right thing to do.

One thing we promise: we will not stop until pollution from the natural gas infrastructure is no longer a threat.  Join us in making our world a safer and healthier place.  Let’s fix these natural gas leaks.

____

[1] Stacy SL, Brink LL, Larkin JC, Sadovsky Y, Goldstein BD, Pitt BR, et al. (2015) Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0126425. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0126425, downloaded September 28, 2015, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0126425

[2] Lisa M. McKenzie, Ruixin Guo, Roxana Z. Witter, David A. Savitz, Lee S. Newman, and John

  1. Adgate, Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas

Development in Rural Colorado, Environmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.1306722. downloaded September 28, 2015, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306722/#tab3

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.

 

Water is Essential to Life: Veto on Water Rule Bill Warranted

Today President Obama vetoed a bill that would have killed our best chance in decades to clean up our nation’s waters.  As pro-life Christians, we stand firmly behind the President’s efforts to make our water sources cleaner.

All of life requires water, clean pure water.  It’s something we take for granted, but shouldn’t.  Dirty water, contaminated water, remains a constant threat we must work to ensure doesn’t harm our children and loved ones, as the terrible situation in Flint, Michigan, reminds us.

Is our water safe?  Increasingly, the answer is no.

For Christians called by Jesus to love others and protect the vulnerable, and for others of good will, this situation is unacceptable and presents an opportunity to make a difference.  We must work for a righteous water supply.

An important part of the reason our water isn’t safe for many is the inability of our government to adequately enforce the Clean Water Act.  In effect, in many cases our clean water cops are no longer on the beat, with nearly half of major polluters effectively beyond their reach.  Because of this hindering of enforcement, right now the drinking water sources of 1 in 3 Americans are threatened and increasingly undefended, and enforcement actions have dropped by almost half.

Passed in 1972 and strengthened during the Reagan years, the Clean Water Act put America on the right track in defending our waters for supplying drinking water systems, agriculture, industry, and recreation. However, a number of court decisions and Congressional inaction have “muddied the waters” by thwarting our ability to protect what are known as “headwaters,” or the beginnings of our streams and rivers, as well as many wetlands. What was once easily defined during the Reagan Administration now is a total mess of confusion, inaction, and failure.

We are thankful that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have worked together to put in place a new rule, revised in light of public comments, that clarifies the protection needed to ensure pure water, defend our children’s health, and codify exemptions that have long applied to farmers.

We need this new regulation so we can once again attain the level of water purity achieved during the Reagan years, and then to build upon this success for even greater water purity and a righteous water supply.

Unfortunately, it is this regulation that Congress is trying to kill, and their misguided efforts are the reason for President Obama’s veto.

Water is about life.  To protect life we must have pure water.  An essential step towards pure water and our children’s health is the implementation of a strong Army Corps-EPA’s regulation.  It is for the sake of our kids that we support President Obama’s veto.

Pro-Life Christians Support Pennsylvania’s New Methane Reduction Standard

A Statement by The Rev. Mitchell C. Hescox, President/C.E.O

Today Governor Tom Wolf announced a new standard to reduce methane from Pennsylvania’s existing and new natural gas infrastructure.  We applaud the Governor’s actions and are thankful that Pennsylvania is leading the nation by defending our children from the threats that fugitive methane releases have on our unborn and born children.

As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn.  We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution, pollution that impacts them even before they take their first breath.  The medical community has long known of the environmental impacts on our unborn children. The once thought chemical protection a mother gives her developing child is untrue. Studies have shown that smog, VOCs, and air toxics have a disproportionate impact upon life in the womb. A recent study by Shaina L. Stacy and others at the University of Pittsburgh found evidence of low birthweight babies associated with proximity to unconventional natural gas wells in Butler County, PA,[1] and Lisa M. McKenzie, Colorado School of Public Health, published peer reviewed research linking birth defects to methane production.[2]  The authors admit more research is needed, but the initial conclusions in of themselves demand action to reduce natural gas releases.

These leaks in our natural gas infrastructure spew out smog precursors as well and, as such, add to our failing air quality.  Pennsylvania already has over 277,000 children with asthma according to the American Lung Association and much of Pennsylvania’s air exceeds limits for both ozone (smog) and particulates (soot) emissions, making the need to stop natural gas leaks urgent.  There is simply no way for Pennsylvania’s air quality to improve with the vast amounts of methane spewed by thousands of natural gas installations across the commonwealth, both old and new.

These leaks threaten our most vulnerable, as shared earlier, and also add to climate disruption. We want our loved ones, the unborn, and those yet to be born to inherit a world free of climate change.  Yet, today from our natural gas infrastructure large amounts of methane are being released, a climate pollutant 86 times stronger than carbon dioxide, trapping heat over a 20 year timeframe. These next 20 years that will determine whether our struggle to overcome climate change will be won or lost.  That is why reducing methane is morally strategic.

For these reasons, almost 37,000 pro-life Christians from PA have called for strong action to reduce methane emissions.  Their request states:

As pro-life Christians, we want the air that we breathe to be safe for our children. Leaks in our natural gas infrastructure spew out toxic pollutants, cancer-causing agents and climate pollution that place God’s creation and our families – especially children, pregnant mothers, and the unborn – in harm’s way. That’s why we call on our elected officials to support strong regulations to cut this pollution from both new and existing leaks from our natural gas infrastructure. Our children deserve nothing less.

There will be industry groups yelling foul at another regulation. They say voluntary guidelines are enough.  For the responsible firms that is probably true.  However, standards are not enacted for the good players, but the poor reformers.

Research states that approximately 80% of the natural gas leaks result from 30% of the facilities.[3] That suggests that many producers already see the value in minimizing leaks and the accompanying production losses.  Escaping natural gas can’t make a profit, but it can be extremely toxic and of immeasurable harm to our children’s health.

Many lower cost operators do not exercise the proper care in running their operations, as they survive on the margins.  While being sympathetic to the small business person, the current threats to children’s health demand proper accountability.  Supporting this new standard creates, in effect, a police force to ensure our kids’ health.

If we care for our children, now and in the future, let’s work together to reduce methane and other pollutants that foul our air, our water and most importantly our children’s lives. It’s the right thing to do.

One thing we promise: we will not stop until pollution from the natural gas infrastructure is no longer a threat.  Join us in making our world a safer and healthier place.  Let’s fix these natural gas leaks.

 

 

###

[1] Stacy SL, Brink LL, Larkin JC, Sadovsky Y, Goldstein BD, Pitt BR, et al. (2015) Perinatal Outcomes and Unconventional Natural Gas Operations in Southwest Pennsylvania. PLoS ONE 10(6): e0126425. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0126425, downloaded September 28, 2015, http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0126425

 

[2] Lisa M. McKenzie, Ruixin Guo, Roxana Z. Witter, David A. Savitz, Lee S. Newman, and John

  1. Adgate, Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to Natural Gas

Development in Rural Colorado, Environmental Health Perspectives doi:10.1289/ehp.1306722. downloaded September 28, 2015, http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/1306722/#tab3

[3] Austin L. Mitchel, et.al, Measurements of Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Gathering Facilities and Processing Plants: Measurement Results, Environ. Sci. Technol. 2015, 49, 3219−3227. Downloaded on September 28, 2015, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/pdf/10.1021/es5052809