Dems came up short on Election Day. That’s bad news for climate change | Friday Morning Coffee

November 20, 2020 7:14 am

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

As they looked to finally flip the state Legislature this November, Pennsylvania Democrats had their hearts set on any number of policy goals — from a higher minimum wage and free college, to increased worker protections.

But as Democrats found themselves rebuffed at the ballot box in the Keystone State and in state Capitols across the country earlier this month, those long-sought policy goals became that much harder to achieve. And perhaps no reality is more vexing for progressives than the cold fact that action on climate change and the pivot away from fossil fuels, at least on the state level, is going to have to wait a while.

“We didn’t win everything we were hoping to,” Nick Abraham, state communications director at the League of Conservation Voters, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental advocacy group, told this week. “This issue has continued to be a wider and wider divide over the last few years between the parties.”

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe speaks at a pro-gun rally at the Pennsylvania Capitol. (Screen shot of Facebook video)

In Pennsylvania, Democrats had looked to expand energy efficiency standards and require electricity providers to obtain more of their power from renewable sources. But after failing to overcome GOP majorities in the Legislature, they’ll be left trying to salvage existing programs, Stateline reported.

“We’re trying to stop bad things instead of actively doing good things,” Rep. Greg Vitali, the ranking Democrat on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, told Stateline, adding that he believes the political climate in Harrisburg will be “essentially the same,” with Republicans holding onto the state House and Senate.

“Can we sustain a governor’s veto? That’s the key thing, and that’s in question,” Vitali, of Delaware County, told Stateline. “It’s going to be very close in both chambers, and we did not help ourselves in this election.”

Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, faced repeated challenges to his veto authority during this year’s legislative session. Wolf, who has not always pleased environmentalists, remains a bulwark against GOP mischief. In SeptemberWolf vetoed a bill that would have stripped his administration of the ability to regulate carbon emissions without legislative approval.

Environmental activists ran into a brick wall in Vitali’s committee during the legislative session set to end on Nov. 30. That has everything to do with the fact that the panel is chaired by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, a hardline conservative from suburban Pittsburgh, and a noted climate denier, who has brought fellow deniers before his committee over the last year.

Unofficial tallies compiled by the Dept. of State showed Metcalfe easily turning away a challenge by Democrat Dan Smith61-38 percent, putting him on course to spend two more years as a thorn in environmentalists’ side.

A Marcellus shale gas-drilling site along PA Route 87, Lycoming County. (Nicholas A. Tonelli | Flickr Commons)

Lawmakers in other 2020 swing states, such as North Carolina, are facing down similar frustrations in the face of similar GOP gains at the legislative level.

“I know what I’d love to do on climate,” said North Carolina state Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat who serves as vice chair of the House Environment Committee, told Stateline. “But because I’m still in the minority, there’s very little I can do besides playing defense. We won’t be able to make progress on our zero-carbon [electricity goals] now.”

Republicans in North Carolina maintained control of the state’s General Assembly. Harrison told Stateline that she doesn’t expect to see GOP leaders make climate a priority.

Industry advocates, meanwhile, say this fall’s elections results show that voters are turned off by such ambitious programs as the Green New Deal, and are looking for incremental change.

“It’s clear Pennsylvania voters overwhelmingly support the clean, affordable, reliable energy that natural gas delivers,” the Pittsburgh-based Marcellus Shale Coalition, a powerful industry trade group said in a statement it released to Stateline. “We look forward to working with all elected officials on bipartisan energy solutions that Pennsylvania voters support to move us all forward.”

That means progressives and Democrats will have to look to President-elect Joe Biden, who often stepped on his own environmental message, for protection when he enters the White House, as expected, in January. Biden has pledged to return the United States to the Paris Climate Agreement and has committed to ending gas and oil leases on federal land.

“What you’re going to see now with a new Biden administration is instead of being a barrier to action, you’re going to see the federal agencies giving states a really big opportunity to make gains,” Abraham, of the League of Conservation Voters, told Stateline.

“Reentering the Paris climate accords, immediately going after public lands and not having new federal leasing [for fossil fuel extraction] on those lands, not having subsidies for the fossil fuel industry,” Abraham continued. “Those things are going to break down a lot of those barriers states have been bumping into for the last four years.”

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

Our Stuff.
Lawmakers in the state House and Senate broke for the night on Thursday without voting on a budget framework that had emerged earlier in the day. But that doesn’t mean that there was a shortage of news.

Stephen Caruso broke the details of that spending framework, which relies on unspent federal stimulus money to  to backfill employment costs for police, corrections officers, and Department of Health employees.

In the Senate, progressive Sens. Katie Muth and Maria Collett, of Montgomery County, won spots on the Senate Democrats’ leadership team for the new legislative session, displacing more moderate members of the caucus, Elizabeth Hardison reports.

Pennsylvania could have access to a COVID-19 vaccine within the next month. On Thursday, state health officials rolled out their distribution plan for the medication, Cassie Miller reports. The three-tiered plan calls for prioritizing EMS and other frontline workers before wider distribution begins.

That news came the day after officials in Allegheny County rolled out stay-at-home advisories and pleaded with residents not to travel over the Thanksgiving holidays, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

On Capitol Hill, seven members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last week amid the broader nationwide surge, Capital-Star Washington Correspondent Laura Olson reports.

In Philadelphia, activists protested on behalf of a safe-injection site that’s now the subject of a federal court battle, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, two officials from a Pennsylvania cyber-charter school say the online institutions are more important than ever in the pandemic. And with COVID-19 deaths spiking, there’s also been a spike in end-of-planning, and young people increasingly want a seat at the table, a University of South Florida expert writes.

En la Estrella-Capital, Pa. la Corte Suprema se une a Filadelfia por la campaña de Trump en una disputa de conteo de votaciones. Y Pa. establece las restricciones de viaje de COVID antes de las vacaciones, sin garantía de ejecución.

Photo by Daria Sannikova from Pexels via Creative Commons.

Pennsylvania saw an increase in gambling revenue in October, but the state is facing a pandemic slowdown, the Inquirer reports.
Trump supporters are planning an ‘election integrity’ rally in Greensburg, Pa., on Saturday that could overlap with a Black Lives Matter rally scheduled for about the same time, the Tribune-Review reports.
A Commonwealth Court judge has sent a dispute over mail-in ballots in an Allegheny County state Senate race back to the county court, handing a win to Republicans, the Associated Press reports (via Cumberlink).
The Republican-controlled state House has approved an audit of the 2020 election, though it’s clear that Democrat Joe Biden has carried the state, the Morning Call reports. The vote was party-line, the newspaper notes.
Wilkes-Barre City Council has voted down city Mayor George Brown’s proposed $53.2 million budget, the Citizens-Voice reports. Brown warned that layoffs of city employees could result.

Here’s your #Pennsylvania Instagram of the Day:

Some Montgomery County residents have raised $10K to sue the county over its virtual school order, WHYY-FM reports.
President Donald Trump’s gains among Latino voters in North Philly are a reminder that this key voting bloc isn’t a ‘gimme’ for Democrats, WHYY-FM also reports.
GoErie explains how Joe Biden won Erie County.  
Some progressive groups are pitching Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner for U.S. Attorney General, PoliticsPA reports.
Talking Points Memo explains how delays to the final stage of the U.S. Census could derail the Trump White House’s plan to rig it.
For whatever their word is worth, some Republican senators say they’ll vote to confirm Joe Biden’s cabinet, Politico reports.

What Goes On.
The Senate is in this morning. An 11 a.m. start time is likely. The House comes in at 12 p.m.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to Angela Couloumbis, of Spotlight PA, Republican consultant Mike Barley, of Harrisburg, and CBS-21 reporter Donna Kirker Morgan, all of whom celebrated on Thursday.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s some new music from British pop royalty. It’s ‘Really Love,’ with vocals by Craig David, and an appearance by rapper Tinie Tempeh. It’s just the sort of thing to get the weekend rolling.

Friday’s Gratuitous Soccer Link.
The Guardian 
excerpts from USWNT star Megan Rapinoe’s book where she talks about her decision to take a knee during the National Anthem. ‘White people were mad,’ she says. ‘Whew, were they mad.’

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.