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Is state senator Gene Yaw out to lunch on key energy issues?

  • Marie Cusick
The Pennsylvania state Capitol is seen in this file photo.

Tom Downing / WITF

The Pennsylvania state Capitol is seen in this file photo.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) speaking that the Midstream PA conference in State College in 2016. Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

In October 2016, state senator Gene Yaw (R- Bradford) made a joke while giving a speech at an oil and gas industry conference in State College.

“I’m contemplating filing a bill that would prohibit the transportation into New York of any gas that’s producing by fracking,” he said with a laugh.

The audience of oil and gas industry representatives at the Midstream PA conference dutifully laughed and lightly applauded. When asked, Yaw said he was kidding.

Two-and-half years later, he’s getting serious. Sort of.

‘Get people talking’

On Thursday Yaw filed a memo seeking co-sponsors for a resolution to ban Pennsylvania’s gas from being transported to Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. The move is driven by what many in the industry see as the hypocrisy of neighboring states. Although they are major consumers of Pennsylvania’s natural gas, they haven’t welcomed fracking or pipeline development in their own backyards.

The only problem with Yaw’s idea is the state legislature has no jurisdiction over the interstate sale of natural gas—that’s the job of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Yaw’s spokesman Nick Troutman acknowledges that fact, but said the memo is to aimed at bringing the issue to light, “to get people talking.”

In a press release, Yaw mistakenly blamed the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo, father of current Governor Andrew Cuomo, for banning fracking.

The resolution wasn’t the only thing Yaw was up to this week.

On Tuesday, the state Environmental Quality Board (of which he is a member) advanced a petition to create an economy-wide cap-and-trade program, aimed at dramatically cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Yaw wasn’t at the meeting. Instead, he was touting the passage of a bill he’d sponsored to formally designate the Hellbender as Pennsylvania’s state amphibian. He sent Troutman in his place to vote against the climate proposal. In an interview the following day with StateImpact Pennsylvania after his remarks at the 2019 Upstream PA conference, Yaw seemed unaware the petition had advanced.

“It was approved?” he asked, turning to Troutman.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea for Pennsylvania,” Yaw said. “But there’s not much more I can say about it.”

‘You’re interrupting my sandwich’

Yaw went on to say he doesn’t see a lot of support for bailing out Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry, which is pushing a proposal that would create an approximately $500 million annual subsidy for the state’s five plants. The nuclear industry, environmental organizations, members of the state’s bipartisan Nuclear Energy Caucus, many economists, and the region’s power grid operator have suggested that putting a price on carbon–requiring polluters to pay for their emissions–would be a more market-friendly way to address climate change and the economic troubles facing nuclear plants.

Despite Yaw’s disapproval of the cap-and-trade proposal (which is one way to price carbon) he said he doesn’t have an opinion on carbon pricing.

“I haven’t looked at it,” he said. “I can’t really speak intelligently about it.”

After answering StateImpact Pennsylvania’s questions about energy and environmental issues for a little more than seven minutes, Yaw looked longingly at the lunch buffet next to him and asked to wrap things up.

“You’re interrupting my sandwich—my ability to get it,” he said.

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