Two of Pennsylvania’s leading environmental groups are forming a new strategic alliance in response to what they call an “unprecedented anti-environmental political climate at the federal and state levels.”
PennFuture and the Conservation Voters of PA will combine policy, advocacy, and legal resources to mobilize voters around environmental issues and hold lawmakers accountable.
Conservation Voters of PA has staff of five, and will remain a 501(c)(4) advocacy organization with an affiliated PAC. PennFuture has a staff of 20 and is a 501(c)(3) organization, which bars it from participating in elections. But PennFuture President and CEO Larry Schweiger says the alliance builds on a model other organizations have used in other states.
“We have to be very clear about where the money comes from and how it’s spent,” says Schweiger. “But this gives us room to participate.”
Conservation Voters of PA Executive Director Josh McNeil says scaling up is the primary goal.
“The environmental fights at the state and federal level are massive. We’re talking about a systematic change towards clean energy and decades of work protecting clean air and clean water that are all at risk,” says McNeil. “We wanted to try to have a bigger impact on lawmakers and the state they’re supposed to be protecting.”
McNeil and Schweiger say their groups have been in discussions about the partnership for about a year, but they feel a renewed sense of urgency with the incoming Trump administration. The President-elect has called climate change a hoax and nominated people to key cabinet positions who have fought efforts to address it.
“When you have the likes of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency– he’s been the lead attorney fighting environmental regulations. His state, Oklahoma, is one of the worst in the country for environmental protections,” says Schweiger. “Rick Perry heading the Energy Department is frightening. As a candidate for president he was advocating for the abolition of the very department he’ll be running. Rex Tillerson, the former head of Exxon, is someone who’s worked consistently to try to prevent progress on climate change is now going to be heading the State Department.”
Schweiger says he’s also been troubled by what he sees going on in Harrisburg.
“We have a heavily gerrymandered state, where lawmakers have picked their voters,” he says. “I think the Democrats are going the wrong direction. Instead of running forward, they’re running backwards. Too many are trying to placate the moneyed interests in this state.”
McNeil says the groups hope to increase fundraising, but also simply reach out to more voters.
“There’s two things that win in politics– money and people,” he says. “We’re never going to have more money than Exxon, but we certainly already have more people. Getting them engaged in the fight is how we’re going to win this.”