Environmentalists Swarm Harrisburg To Lobby Lawmakers

Jun 14, 2016

An old oil well pump sits idle off Highway 287 in East Texas. Pennsylvania legislators are considering legislation that would separate conventional oil extraction such as this from shale gas drilling in terms of environmental standards.
Credit Ray Bodden / Flickr

Hundreds of environmental advocates are slated to gather in Harrisburg on Tuesday to lobby state lawmakers to reject bills they say would undermine the commonwealth’s clean energy and conservation programs.

Court Gould, executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, said it’s a chance for members of the public to directly voice their concerns to legislators.

“Too often our elected officials are only hearing the voices of special interests that are recalcitrant and very reluctant to see a transition to a cleaner energy economy,” Gould said. “It tends to be a desire to stay in an economic past.”

A coalition of environmental groups including Sustainable Pittsburgh, PennEnvironment, the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice are taking issue with several bills in the environment committees of the state House and Senate.

“There’s been some overreach with regard to the Clean Power Plan, the federal government’s effort to bring America into best practice with reducing emissions,” Gould said, referring to legislation that would delay Pennsylvania's submission of a plan to abide by the new federal rules.

He said some lawmakers are also blocking bills that would be “helping to give incentives to renewable energy, to retrain coal workers for cleaner energy production means and to provide opportunities for the public to purchase cleaner energy sources.”

Environmental advocates singled out a handful of bills they disagree with:

  • Senate Bill 279 would create a Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, which would look at potentially separating the environmental regulation of conventional oil drilling from that of shale gas drilling. A final section of Senate Bill 279 would also abolish the rules concerning oil and gas wells made earlier this year by the state's Environmental Quality Board. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, those new rules “improve protection of water resources, add public resources considerations, protect public health and safety, address landowner concerns, enhance transparency, and improve data management.”
  • Senate Bill 805 would allow “large commercial” and industrial customers of electric distribution companies to be opted out of otherwise all-inclusive energy conservation requirements for utilities. 
  • Senate Bill 562 would give legislative committees more power to put the regulatory powers of state-created commissions on hold if the legislators disagree with the regulations that come out of those commissions.