How Pa’s ongoing debate over nat.gas is Frack-turing Democrats | Tuesday Morning Coffee

December 3, 2019 7:06 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

We’re going to start the day with an object lesson in guarding against the dangers of monolithic thinking. And to get us there, we’re going to ask you to train your attention on western Pennsylvania where Democrats find themselves divided over the politics of natural gas drilling.

On the one hand are progressives, such as Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto who, as our pal Chris Potter at WESA-FM reported, enraged organized labor when he suggested that western Pennsylvania didn’t need any more petrochemical plant development.

From Potter:

“… Peduto stepped onto that fault line and nearly fell through it this fall, when he told an environmental conference that he opposed more investment by the petrochemical industry. Republicans pounced. At a political event held in Downtown Pittsburgh’s Omni William Penn Hotel, Republican Committee of Allegheny County chairman Sam DeMarco told party faithful that Peduto “wants to halt growth. He sounds like Pol Pot declaring year zero in Cambodia. Tonight I’m telling union workers that we’re on their side.”

Shortly after Peduto took his position, Darrin Kelly, southwestern Pennsylvania’s top union official, issued a statement saying it was ‘hard to believe that the Mayor of Pittsburgh would actually tell companies not to create thousands of good middle-class jobs in our region.  … Calling to banish an entire industry is an insult to a lot of hard-working men and women in organized labor.’

Weeks later, Kelly seemed ready to move past the outrage. ‘The mayor is very passionate about what he believes,” he said. “We did have a lengthy conversation. It’s got everyone back to the table.’”

As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso later reported, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf honked off environmentalists when he broke with Peduto over the need for more petrochemical development in the state.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (Source: Tom Wolf Flickr.)

And that’s the line that some moderate Democrats, including Wolf, and, improbably Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, have walked over natural gas development.

They’ve tried to balance what they say is responsible development of a lucrative natural resource with stewardship of the environment. It has not always worked.

Wolf, for instance, found himself struggling to keep progressive Democrats on-side as he tried to build support for his $4.5 billion Restore PA plan, which relies on two decades’ worth of severance tax revenue to pay down the bonds that underwrite the ambitious infrastructure proposal.

“When you see that kind of energy and dollars put into a cleaner environment, and you know that all that effort will be wiped out with the expansion of an industry that is completely out of local control, I feel like it’s my duty to advocate so that their work [is] protected,” state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D-Allegheny, and one of those progressives, told WESA-FM.

Innamorato further noted that her district also includes “a lot of people that are employed by that industry. And right now it’s a labor-versus-environmental conversation, instead of how do we have both?”

It’s a question that’s not going away soon. Nor does there seem to be an easy path to resolution.

Our Stuff.

Speaking of the Democrats’ family quarrel, Stephen Caruso profiles one Democratic hopeful who’s launched a primary bid against state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny.

Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender has what you need to know about oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court on an important guns rights case — and why nothing may change as a result.

Gov. Tom Wolf wrote to officials at Major League Baseball on Monday asking the league not to sever ties with minor league clubs in Erie, State College and Williamsport as part of a reconfiguration of the farm league system.

From our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune: A federal task force toured a rehabilitated brownfield site in West Philadelphia.  And Black-owned businesses make up a larger share of Philadelphia’s economy than was previously supposed.

On our Commentary Page this morning, a former official in the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services argues the case for closing two centers for people with intellectual disabilities that some lawmakers are currently trying to save.  And state Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, spurred on by the gas refinery fire in his backyard that resulted in hefty windfalls for some company officials, argues the case for his bill capping executive bonuses.

(Dsw4/WikiMedia Commons)

Democrats were energized in the 2019 election, pointing the way toward what could be a good 2020, the Inquirer reports.
Pittsburgh will host the 2020 Dems for a forum on education issues, the Post-Gazette reports.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse is considering taking nuisance action against a downtown bar that’s been the site of two shootings, PennLive reports.
The Allentown diocese is suing over a new abuse complaintThe Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:

Philly’s public defenders are looking to unionize with the UAW, WHYY-FM reports.
A Berks County mother, whose young children were found hanged in the basement of the family home, has been charged in their deaths, WITF-FM reports.
Privatizing state parks can improve them — or wreck them, reports.
U.S. House Republicans have launched their rebuttal ahead of impeachment action this week, Politico reports.

What Goes On.
The House Democratic Policy Committee legs it to Allentown for a public hearing on mental health issues. The 10 a..m. session takes place on the Hamilton St. campus of Lehigh Carbon Community College.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s an old fave from the Stone Roses to get your Tuesday rolling. It’s ‘Waterfalls.’

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
St. Louis 
blanked the Blackhawks 4-0 on Monday, ending a point streak for Chicago’s Patrick Kane.

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.