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Pa. Democrats control the state House. The new energy committee chair says he’ll look for bipartisan agreement

  • Rachel McDevitt
Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) at a news conference in 2016.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) at a news conference in 2016.

Marie Cusick / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Rep. Greg Vitali (D- Delaware) at a 2016 rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

Democrats narrowly control the state House for the first time in more than a decade, and that means a shift in priorities for the committees that first take up new legislation.

State Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), the new majority chair of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, will be a markedly different leader from his Republican predecessor, who promoted the oil and gas industry and tried to reduce regulatory oversight.

Vitali has been on the committee for much of his three-decade tenure in the House, and he’s served as minority chair for four of the last five sessions. Most recently, that was beside chair Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), who often mocked Democrats on the panel for bringing up climate issues. Metcalfe did not run for reelection last year. Vitali said he plans to set a more collegial tone this term and will not give a platform to climate science deniers.

Vitali said he wants to find areas of bipartisan agreement that have a good chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. Shared areas of interest include neighborhood-scale solar projects and electric vehicle infrastructure.

At the top of his priority list is more staff at the Department of Environmental Protection.

Vitali has long called for more resources for the agency. He said the lack of enforcement that results from a strained DEP leads to heavier pollution burdens on poor and minority communities.

“I’m trying to get the legislature to view DEP staffing as an environmental justice issue,” he said, adding that people in weather areas don’t experience the same consequences of poor environmental oversight as people in poorer areas.

Rep. Martin Causer (R-McKean) is now the minority chair on the committee. He’s served on the panel with Vitali for several terms.

“While we certainly have differing viewpoints, particularly on what I see as the necessary expansion of our oil and gas industry to fuel our Commonwealth and the economy, I have always respected his positions. I look forward to working with him to find some common ground on how we can support consumers, energy producers and the environment,” Causer said.

A spokesman for Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said Yaw looks forward to working with Vitali on issues from carbon capture to hydrogen to clean water programs.

Patrick McDonnell, a former DEP secretary and now President of PennFuture, said he hopes to work with Vitali and the committee to address the climate crisis, by implementing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and expanding clean energy goals.

“Representative Vitali has proven to be an advocate for Pennsylvania’s environment by introducing climate change legislation and supporting stronger methane gas regulations. He has also thrown his support behind the agencies tasked to protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources,” McDonnell said.

Vitali is looking to vet plans for a possible hydrogen hub in the state, to make sure projects do not rely on fossil fuels. Gov. Josh Shapiro listed a hydrogen hub as a priority in his budget address.

Vitali said he also wants to address problems in the conventional oil and gas industry and make sure the industry is properly regulated.

A recent report from DEP found conventional drillers regularly ignore state law when it comes to cleaning up wells that no longer produce. The Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association said the report distorts data, but did not offer an example or evidence to support that.

The American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania said it looks forward to working with the committee on policies that support responsible development of the state’s natural gas reserves.

“Pennsylvania needs predictable regulations and efficient permitting processes to continue providing affordable, reliable energy for consumers, helping reduce carbon dioxide emissions to generational lows and sustaining our state’s economy,” said API PA executive director Stephanie Catarino Wissman.

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