Legislative Pulse: Examining Climate Change, Coal, and Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania
State Sen. Dave Argall explains how he is trying to promote sound science and economic analysis to energy and climate matters in Pennsylvania.
Editor’s Note: Pennsylvania state Sen. Dave Argall (R-Rush Township) has served in the legislature since 1985 and as a state senator since 2009. He is Chairman of the Senate Majority Policy Committee and serves on the Agriculture & Rural Affairs, Appropriations, Finance, and Community, Economic & Recreational Development committees and as vice-chair of the Urban Affairs & Housing committee.
Burnett: Both the Republican-led House and Senate in Pennsylvania have been very active on the climate issue this year, holding a number of hearings and workshops at which differing views on climate science and policy were discussed. Most recently, in early May your Senate Majority Policy Committee held a workshop on climate change. Why did you think this meeting was necessary, and what did you take away from the speakers’ presentations concerning the state of climate science?
Argall: We held this hearing at the request of Sen. Scott Martin from Lancaster County, who wanted to dive deeper into this issue. The purpose of this workshop was to fully understand the science and statistics behind climate change and to understand what we as state policymakers could do about it.
It was unfortunate, however, that many environmental groups and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection did not accept our invitation to participate. We could have had a more in-depth conversation about this issue, but we could not force groups to speak to us.
Burnett: Pennsylvania has by far the lowest electric power rates in the northeastern and New England region, reflecting the fact it is the one state in the region that is not a part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which is prematurely shuttering low-cost coal power plants. Gov. Tom Wolfe has suggested Pennsylvania join RGGI. Do you believe Pennsylvania should do so?
Argall: In Harrisburg, we tend to find more consensus than our counterparts in Washington. Many in state government believe we can balance both our economic concerns and the need for environmental protection. The state constitution requires that we as state officials have an obligation to provide clean air and water to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
We also need to ensure that we protect Pennsylvania’s economy. The state has just earned the title as one of the largest energy producers in the country. We live in a world that needs to respect both our environmental and economic concerns. Any organization the state joins must come to terms with this reality.
Burnett: Unlike neighboring states, which have banned or sharply limited fracking and turned away from coal, Pennsylvania allows fracking, which has boosted its economy and state revenues. You’ve been a strong proponent of the coal industry. Why do you think coal continues to be vital to the energy system, and what is your opinion of efforts to ban fracking?
Argall: I recently received an award from the Schuylkill River Greenways National Heritage Area for my work in helping to clean up our streams and rivers. Many have worked together on these efforts to improve the waterways in our small towns and large cities in the last 50 years.
Where we once saw—and smelled—contaminated black and orange rivers in the center of our local communities, today we see people boating and fishing in the same locations.
This is something of which we should all be proud.
That progress is the result of balancing our environmental and economic concerns. For example, Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne/Carbon) and I have proposed bipartisan legislation this session to assist waste coal facilities across Pennsylvania. These facilities generate electric power and eliminate the massive waste coal piles and abandoned strip mines that are a result of centuries of mining throughout Pennsylvania.
That should be our goal for the future—not banning new technologies and much-needed energy resources which have created the kinds of jobs that are so much needed in many regions in Pennsylvania.
I believe the state has an obligation to clean up our environment while at the same time encouraging key energy job creation and retention. It’s not an either/or choice. We have to do both!
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.