“Our General Assembly has not done enough to ensure that our state’s environment is sound.”
— Dana Hamp Gulick

I propose three ways our General Assembly can do a better job of protecting our environment. Given climate change and ongoing economic development we need to act now before it is too late. Let’s make sure that we can drink clean water and breathe pure air. Let’s make sure that climate change does not spin us into an economic crisis. Send me to Harrisburg to fight for our right to a healthy environment.

We all need a healthy environment. The environment is the basis of our economic production, it is crucial to our physical health, and threats to our environment threaten our future and our sense of who we are. We protect ourselves when we protect our environment and we leave ourselves vulnerable when we let it degrade around us.

State law obligates our state government to protect and steward the environment for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians. Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states:

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“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

Pennsylvania State Constitution, Article 1, Section 27

Ensuring that Pennsylvanians live in and can enjoy a healthy environment is the duty of every state lawmaker. It is also each lawmaker’s duty to make sure that our state’s natural resources are utilized in a way that harmonizes with the public interest since the environment is not the exclusive property of any private entity or individual, but “the common property of all the people” (see above).

Unfortunately, our General Assembly has not done enough to ensure that our state’s environment is sound and that the right of all Pennsylvanians to a healthy environment is preserved.

Our waterways are so badly polluted that neighboring states are suing us because of what is coming downstream to them. Our air quality in Lancaster is among the worst in the country. The poor quality of our air and water has significant health impacts on us including a rising tide of asthma. While our lawmakers fight pointlessly about whether or not to “believe” in climate change, changes in our climate are already disrupting the lives of Pennsylvanians.


In what follows I offer three proposals for what we can do now to ensure our environment is in tact for future generations.

  1. We need to combat climate change by working to incentivize the production of renewable energy (and renewable-energy jobs), transitioning government buildings to renewable energy, and moving toward a Carbon Fee and Dividend Program in Pennsylvania.

  2. We need to make sure the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is protecting the public interest and we need to fund the department adequate to the tasks before it.

  3. We have to pass common-sense rules about campaign finance and limit gifts to lawmakers so that we can have confidence that members of the General Assembly will pursue environmental policies that advance the interests of all Pennsylvanians and not just a few powerful interests.

Responding to Climate Change

Climate change is upon us. Pennsylvania is now almost two degrees warmer than it was a century ago and we stand at the beginning of a series of changes that will make our part of Pennsylvania both warmer and wetter and more subject to extreme weather events such as the torrential rains of this summer. The impact of climate change will fall heavily upon all of us but it will fall especially heavily on our farmers, the elderly, and our children. We need to act now to try to limit climate change and prepare to adjust to the changes that are already happening.

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Climate change is an emergency that demands our attention. In order to respond to this emergency, our state government needs to do everything it can to shift our state to running on renewable energy instead of carbon energy.

First, I propose that the state of Pennsylvania strengthen the tax incentives to businesses and residents that will speed our transition to solar and wind power. The General Assembly has the power to strengthen the existing package of incentives, and we need to do it. For example, I would like to see the state of Pennsylvania offer property tax reductions to those Pennsylvanians who install solar panels on their residential property. We need also to make Pennsylvania more friendly to solar and wind energy by finding ways to attract companies to our state. Let’s make sure Pennsylvania is a leader in renewable energy.

Second, I suggest that our state government set an example for other institutions in our state by switching all government buildings to renewable energy.

Third, I support and will advocate a Carbon Fee and Dividend program in Pennsylvania. This program would impose a fee on each ton of CO2 (with equivalents for other greenhouse gasses) at the point of supply. Our state government would collect the fee but 100% of what is collected (minus the administrative costs of collecting it) would be equally distributed to Pennsylvanians as a dividend each month.

The Carbon Fee is NOT a Carbon Tax because the Carbon Fee does not increase state revenue. Instead it encourages consumers to choose forms of energy that do not exacerbate climate change.

Since the Carbon Fee would be collected at the point of energy supply, the price of carbon energy would go up for consumers, but most families would make money thanks to the dividend and all Pennsylvanians would be incentivized to select non-carbon forms of energy as much as possible.

The Citizens’ Climate Lobby offers a useful description of how the Carbon Fee and Dividend Program would work. I should point out that this idea is not a Democratic idea. A version of the idea was actually pushed by Republican leaders beginning in 2017.

If we take Climate Change seriously, we need solutions now. The three proposals above are ways our state government can lead on the issue instead of waiting and then being forced to react once conditions have worsened.

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“If we take Climate Change seriously, we need solutions now.”
— Dana Hamp Gulick

Ensuring our Environment is Protected

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is Pennsylvania’s agency in charge of ensuring that our land and water are protected. The DEP issues permits to companies that want to build or drill or do anything else that may have an environmental impact. The DEP thus has an important role to play in maintaining Pennsylvania’s environment.

However, the DEP has also been the object of much pressure and criticism over the last twenty years. Pennsylvania farmers often complain about their negative interactions with the DEP.  Environmental groups are frustrated by what they see as DEP’s overly close relationship with industry. On their part, Republican lawmakers seem to see the DEP as a needless government agency that gets in the way of economic development.

Led by Republicans, the General Assembly has cut DEP’s funding by 40% since 2002-2003 from $245 million down to $152 million in 2017-2018. Naturally, the cuts are deeper than even these numbers indicate because of inflation and because of the increased demands that fracking has placed on the DEP.

At this point the DEP does not have enough money to hire the inspectors it needs to inspect Pennsylvania’s drinking water systems. This has prompted warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency and threats of big fines for Pennsylvania from the federal government unless the inspectors are hired and trained to do this important job. However, the Republican-controlled General Assembly refused to allocate the $7.5 million dollars it would take to hire the inspectors. With the consent of the Governor, DEP has gotten around this problem by increasing fees on water, but the delay has left many Pennsylvanians vulnerable to unsafe water for years.

We cannot allow the relationship between the General Assembly and the DEP to continue to degenerate. At a time when climate change is advancing, economic development requires careful oversight, and farmers are struggling across the state, we need a strong DEP that can act to protect the public’s constitutional right to a healthy and beautiful environment.

This is why I suggest that we need to reevaluate the role of the DEP and then fund the agency adequately to do the work we want it to do. Unlike many Republicans including my opponent, I believe it is important that the DEP remains separate from industry so it can act to protect the public interest when private interests come into conflict with it.

However, I would also like to see the DEP become more of a partner to farmers so that it can provide more help to farmers as they try to balance making a living and caring for our environment. This is why I think the state should set up a series of DEP grant programs for farmers so that the Commonwealth can partner with farmers as they take steps like establishing riparian buffers along waterways and cutting down airborne particulates.

I suggest, therefore, that we engage in a bipartisan review of the mission of the DEP and what we want its goals to be on the way to restoring the agency to full and adequate funding. Our state government owes it to Pennsylvanians to protect and steward the environment. The DEP, reimagined, has to be at the center of this effort.

 

Making Sure Our State Lawmakers Work For Us

Because the environmental challenges facing us are serious, we need to make sure our lawmakers have the interests of all Pennsylvanians at heart. This is why I think that we need to protect our environment by changing our state campaign-finance laws and laws governing gifts to lawmakers so that we know that our lawmakers are defending the public interest.

Failing that, the people of Pennsylvania need to call on their lawmakers to pledge to not take money from industry-groups that make their money by extracting natural resources from Pennsylvania.

At present Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that has no cap on how much individual, lobbyists, or corporate PACS can contribute to a candidate’s campaign. There are also no restrictions on what gifts can be given to our lawmakers, so long as those gifts are recorded.

 
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I find it unnerving that many of the people in Harrisburg that have done the most to weaken the DEP and who have blocked a severance tax on natural gas in our state are also those who have received cash from big industry interests. According to Marcellus Money, an initiative of the Conservation Voters of PA, the natural gas industry has spent almost $70 million since 2007 to lobby our lawmakers. $11.2 million of that money has gone to campaign committees. There is no Pennsylvania law and no restriction that prevents a lobbyist from handing a lawmaker a check for any amount of money when a big vote is coming up. There is nothing that prevents a corporate PAC from spending money on attack ads to tip an election for a candidate that it supports.

Just as we need to make sure the DEP is a servant of the public good, we need to make sure that our lawmakers are thinking of their constituents rather than the special interests that might prefer a certain environmental policy – or none at all. This is why I suggest that we can help ensure the health of our environment  by taking steps to restrict the access of lobbyists to lawmakers and restrict how much candidates can spend in an election cycle. We should also follow the example of other states by regulating gifts to lawmakers and capping contributions to candidates for the General Assembly.

On the way to such rules changes I signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, meaning that I have promised not to accept any money from the fossil-fuel industry. I encourage my fellow candidates for office to do the same.

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I propose three ways our General Assembly can do a better job of protecting our environment. Given climate change and ongoing economic development we need to act now before it is too late. Let’s make sure that we can drink clean water and breathe pure air. Let’s make sure that climate change does not spin us into an economic crisis. Send me to Harrisburg to fight for our right to a healthy environment.