‘A critical moment’: Pa. enviro group boss Molly Parzen looks to big year | Thursday Morning Coffee

From Build Back Better to the Pa. budget, the interim head of Conservation Voters of Pa. isn’t wasting a moment

January 27, 2022 7:14 am

Cover of the Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment 2021 (Capital-Star screen capture).

Good Thursday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Molly Parzen might be new to her job, but she’s a familiar face to Pennsylvania’s environmental advocacy community. Before taking over as the interim executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania last July, Parzen already had spent a decade as its assistant director.

Molly Parzen, interim executive director of Conservation Voters of Pa. (submitted photo)

In a conversation with the Capital-Star this week, Parzen said the search for a permanent replacement for former Executive Director Josh McNeil is already underway.

But with passage of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Plan still on the line, and the race for the governor’s office still beckoning, Parzen is making the most of her time in the top spot.

The conversation below has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

Q: It’s a big year. What are your top two or three priorities?

A: It can’t be understated how critical of a moment we’re in. This is an opportunity to realize the change that we’ve been working for so long. Top of mind is the status of Build Back Better and the federal climate agenda that’s in it.

We feel very confident that there will be movement, and [that it] will pass in the next couple of weeks. It will look different from how we originally thought. But there is support for the climate investment pieces [within it]. That will be the single biggest action we will take to fight climate change, and the investments will be historic.

President Joe Biden talks on the phone with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) following the Senate vote to pass the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, Aug. 10, 2021, in the Oval Office Dining Room of the White House. (Adam Schultz/Official White House Photo)

Q: What does that look like?

A: Once that gets done at the federal level, those dollars will come to the state. What we need to make sure happens is that the money gets spent — unlike the American Rescue Act money. We can’t let the Legislature waste this opportunity. Between the American Rescue Act, the infrastructure law, and Build Back Better … It’s so just important to make sure that people know in Harrisburg that we need to spend that money. We need to make sure that they know what our communities need.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks with the press. Wolf was joined by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID), stakeholders, and a consumer who has fallen victim to surprise billing to celebrate the upcoming implementation of the federal No Surprises Act on January 1, 2022. The No Surprises Act will protect patients from receiving surprise medical bills (Commonwealth Media Services photo)

Q: The Legislature has proven remarkably resistant to spending that money so far. How do you make sure that doesn’t happen?

A: There are a lot of unanswered questions on how this money will come in. The [American Rescue Plan money] just landed on Harrisburg’s doorstep to do what they wanted, which, as it turns out, was to hoard them. Depending on how the money is driven out, the hope is that a lot of it can go to the agencies that can do the work, and come to the state in a way that isn’t help up by the Legislature.

But there also needs to be some changes in the Legislature. It’s an incredibly important election year, and we have an opportunity to elect a whole slew of environmental champions across Pennsylvania.

(Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, legislative Republicans and the Democratic Wolf administration announced an agreement to spend $225 million of that money on relief to front-line health care workers). 

Q: Any other priorities?

A: Pennsylvania is poised to join [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative] … It represents a real and proactive step we can take to combat climate change. We have an environmental scorecard for legislators. And if you look at the scorecard for 10 years ago, there were a handful of bills that made it to the floor.

Last year, we scored more bills than ever … You can’t have good environmental laws without having good environmental lawmakers. So it’s important to protect the democratic process that we have to get those results.

Things like judicial gerrymandering and all the anti-democratic legislation that has cropped up, that presents a really clear and present danger to the state of our civic environment. They are really concerning.

These attempts to push through constitutional amendments [in the Legislature], it’s a circumvention of the way our system of government is supposed to work. Our community recognizes that we can’t do our work to protect the environment if our democracy is not healthy and robust.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Nurses, hospital staff, and other front-line workers at Pennsylvania health care facilities could get a bonus in the coming months paid for with federal dollars under a deal quietly struck between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican-controlled Legislature, Marley Parish and Stephen Caruso report.

The state agency in charge of Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks and 2.2 million acres of state forests laid out its priorities for 2022 on Wednesday, announcing a new hire and investment initiatives to bolster outdoor recreation in the commonwealth, Cassie Miller reports.

The U.S. Dept. of Justice has launched an investigation into an apparent attempt by Republicans in seven battleground states won by President Joe Biden in 2020, including Pennsylvania, to allegedly subvert the election results by sending falsified slates of electors for ex-President Donald Trump to Congress, according to a published report. Details from me.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer is planning to announce his retirement in the coming days, according to multiple press reports Wednesday. Our Washington Bureau has the details.

On our Commentary Page this morning: On International Holocaust Remembrance DayShira Goodman of the Philadelphia ADL explains why we need to remember now more than ever, and defeat those who would spread hate. And a Philadelphia advocate writes that the commonwealth needs real probation reform — the bill now before the General Assembly isn’t it.

Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, asked for an audit of PSERS travel expenses Friday, March 6, 2020 at a Harrisburg board meeting. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Members of Pennsylvania’s school pension fund won’t be required to sign non-disclosure agreements to hear the results of an internal investigation of the fund, the Inquirer reports.

Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed the congressional map sent to him by legislative Republicans, the Post-Gazette reports.

Video shows a police officer firing a stun gun at a student at Middletown High School in Dauphin County who broke free from his grip during an altercation at the school, PennLive reports.

A political action committee run by former state Treasurer Barbara Hafer has netted $2.3 million from investments, and paid Hafer’s daughter $500,000 since she left office, The Caucus reports.

An analysis of millions of Pennsylvania voter records has turned up few irregularities, the Bucks County Courier Times reports (via the York Daily Record).

The Morning Call runs down the 11 applicants for a vacant seat on Bethlehem City Council.

City & State Pa. takes a look at how Pa. pols are adapting their campaigns during the pandemic.

In court testimony on Wednesday, Wilkes-Barre School Superintendent Brian Costello detailed the hardships the district faced providing services during the pandemic, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

Members of Philadelphia’s congressional delegation are pushing a $1 billion proposal to help solve murders and aid victims, WHYY-FM reports.

GoErie explains how 8,000 Erie residents would be affected by a county redistricting plan.

Roll Call explains how the upcoming U.S. Supreme Court confirmation fight will shape the 2022 midterm elections.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The desk is clear. Enjoy the silence.

Gov. Tom Wolf holds a pair of events today. At 11 a.m., he’s in Erie highlighting state funding supporting the city’s downtown. At 2 pm., apparently in possession of light speed, he’s in Montgomery County to call on the Legislature to pass a minimum wage hike.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Best wishes go out this morning to Julia Terruso, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and Erik Arneson, in the office of state Treasurer Stacy Garrity, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
If you like the neo-noir stylings of Lana Del Rey, you’re going to love the debut solo track from Suki Waterhouse. The English model/influencer/personality is out with her first solo track, “Melrose Meltdown.” And if you listen very carefully, you can almost hear the Santa Ana winds blowing through this tune.

Thursday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
The red-hot Colorado Avalanche won their 17th straight on Wednesday, rallying to pull off a 4-3 overtime win over the Boston Bruins.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.