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Pa. environmental, religious and other groups criticize Shapiro plan for ignoring climate change

  • Rachel McDevitt
A wind energy farm in Somerset County.

Tim Lambert / WITF

A wind energy farm in Somerset County.

More than 100 advocacy groups say Gov. Josh Shapiro’s new 10-year economic development plan is not sustainable.

In a letter sent this week, environmental advocates, religious organizations and community groups say Shapiro’s “fossil fuels-first all-of-the-above energy strategy” does not move at the speed of climate change.

“While we respect your efforts in this significant undertaking, the proposed plan will worsen Pennsylvania’s economic position by linking it to the fossil fuel-driven boom-and-bust economic cycles of the past. Instead, we urge you to return to your campaign platform of forging a new path towards a clean and sustainable economy that supports workers and protects the climate,” the letter reads.

Shapiro’s plan names energy as one of five key industries. It lists oil and gas extraction, pipeline transportation, and petroleum and coal product manufacturing as strengths the state can build on.

Shapiro says the state can take advantage of federal programs to “spur low carbon growth” but doesn’t offer specific goals for renewable energy.

PennFuture CEO Patrick McDonnell, a former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary under Gov. Tom Wolf, said the administration needs to recognize that economic policy is environmental policy.

He noted energy-rich Pennsylvania is one of the highest polluting states in the country.

“You know, the old saying; when you’re in a hole, step one: stop digging. We need to stop digging here. We need to really, really get ourselves out of this hole, starting to reverse,” McDonnell said.

The letter, spearheaded by PennFuture and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, calls on the governor to prioritize industries such as renewable energy, battery storage, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency.

It says Pennsylvania could fall behind other states if it does not look to attract sustainable businesses.

It notes that last year, battery manufacturer Form Energy, which has offices in Washington County, chose to build a new $760 million plant at the site of an old steel mill in Weirton, West Virginia rather than expanding its operations in Pennsylvania.

“The Gets It Done plan should have a clear strategy to rectify this problem and attract more sustainable businesses in order for Pennsylvania to become an energy powerhouse of the future. Regrettably, this plan’s primary focus on the fossil fuel industry diverts attention and resources away from proactively attracting these businesses and building the renewable energy infrastructure necessary to facilitate their success,” the letter states.

McDonnell said industries that get state investments now will be expected to last for decades.

“We need to think about what’s the business, what’s the industry we want to encourage, that we want to incubate here in the commonwealth, that we know is going to be here for the long term,” McDonnell said.

The letter also calls for Shapiro to lay out a plan to meet his own goal of getting 30% of the state’s electricity from renewables by 2030.

Answering questions at an event in Philadelphia Thursday, Shapiro disagreed with the characterization of his plan.

“I think we can be the clean energy capital of the United States, maybe even the world,” Shapiro said, noting that the state was chosen to be part of two federal hydrogen hubs.

The hub in western Pennsylvania would rely on making hydrogen out of natural gas and trapping resulting emissions underground.

“There are real big opportunities for a clean energy economy. At the same time–and I said this in my budget address–I’m hopeful lawmakers will be able to find common ground on important environmental legislation like updating our [Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards] to have more clean energy, more incentives on clean energy projects here in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. “There’s a lot we need to do, but our economic development plan would help really create a real foothold here for a clean energy economy.”

Shapiro’s economic plan won some praise from oil and gas industry groups. The American Petroleum Institute Pennsylvania says it shares the “goal of leveraging our state’s abundant natural gas resources to help accelerate economic growth.”

“With efficient, predictable permitting, Pennsylvania is better positioned to grow its energy economy and create more family-sustaining jobs while tackling the dual challenge of reducing emissions and meeting the growing global demand for energy,” said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, the group’s executive director.

Republicans in the state Senate did not comment directly on Shapiro’s energy strategy, but said “many aspects of Governor Shapiro’s economic development plans merit discussion.”

Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-Indiana) said “rescinding the appeal on [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative] to keep electricity prices lower for Pennsylvania families and businesses” is missing from Shapiro’s proposal.

Pittman has fought against the state joining RGGI both in the legislature and in court. His district includes some of the state’s last coal fired power plants, which would have to pay for each ton of carbon emissions they generate under the program.

Joining RGGI was an initiative of Gov. Tom Wolf. Commonwealth Court barred the state from joining, but the Shapiro Administration is appealing that decision.

A Penn State analysis found joining RGGI could raise ratepayers’ electricity bills by about $43 per year. A study from the University of Pennsylvania found the state would benefit overall from joining the program.

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