‘Not just climate change’: An activist explains how Biden’s infrastructure plan improves the environment | Monday Morning Coffee

April 5, 2021 7:21 am

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The $2 trillion infrastructure plan that President Joe Biden rolled out during a stop in Pittsburgh last week does more than just rebuild the nation’s crumbling network of roads and bridges, it also fast-tracks the nation’s pivot away from fossil fuels; builds up electric vehicle infrastructure, and provide tax breaks to encourage new, climate-friendly technology.

This down payment on environmental spending also calls for calls for $10 billion for a Civilian Climate Corps, $16 billion for capping abandoned wells and cleaning up abandoned mines, and a general commitment to “protect and, where necessary, restore nature-based infrastructure.” And if you’re guessing that it’s already drawing comparisons to the New Deal, you’d be correct.

As you might expect, environmental activists are welcoming this emphasis from the White House, where former Secretary of State John Kerry has been tapped to be a new climate czar. One of those advocates, Josh McNeil, the executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, took a few minutes to talk about Biden’s sweeping plan and its implications for Pennsylvania. The bottom line: Jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

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

A Marcellus shale natural gas well in Jackson Twp., Butler County, Pa. Photo by WCN 24/7 for Flickr Commons

Q: If you’ve heard nothing about this proposal, what’s the single, most important thing to know about it?

McNeil: “This is probably the single biggest action ever taken by our country to address environmental issues. That goes beyond just climate change, it goes to [address] air pollution that will impact the health of millions of people. It will address lead issues that are so problematic in our cities. And it’ll help provide clean drinking water for all of us. This is an investment that we have desperately needed to decades and it is finally coming.”

Q: Republicans already are lining up trying to kill it, even though rural and red districts will clearly benefit from it. How do you circumvent this?

McNeil: “It will take Pennsylvanians talking to their elected officials and letting them know that it has to happen. The vast majority of citizens of this state will want to see it done. It will create tens of thousands of good jobs, [and] it will take our most impoverished communities to new levels of prosperity. The coalition that is behind this is going to be unprecedented.”

Q: The big part of this plan calls for creating a national standard that would require utilities to use a certain amount of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc). That’s intended to reduce the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels.  What’s the argument there?

McNeil: “We’ve done this before. We were the firewood capital of the 1700s. And then we did oil and coal, and now we’re doing natural gas. We know how to do this. We should be at the forefront of this transition. The forces that are trying to hold us back on that are not remembering our history.”

(Image via

Q: This plan also calls for increasing the number of electric vehicle charging stations. Pennsylvania, for instance, needs the expanded infrastructure there. That’s also an opportunity for economic development, right?

McNeil: “Electric cars are going to be the future, it’s only a matter of time. This investment to put charging stations where we need them will accelerate that. It will put a lot of electricians to work. We can embrace the next century’s worth of transportation. Ultimately that will reduce costs for people, while, at the same time, allowing us to move ourselves in the way we need to move ourselves while not putting our children’s’ future at risk.”

Q: There’s language in here to cap abandoned mines, creating the opportunity for coalitions between labor and rural lawmakers who tend to be Republican. Is that where you might find some possibility for bipartisan support — however narrow that might be?

McNeil: “We’ve been making the case for years that these things go hand-in-hand. You don’t clean up abandoned mine lands with robots. It takes people and shovels. Because we were at the forefront of all those energy trends, it will take a lot of work. It will be transformative in parts of the state that really need the help.”

The Pennsylvania Capitol building. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Our Stuff.
Cassie Miller
 leads our coverage this morning with this week’s installment of The Numbers Racket, running down the list of Pennsylvania cities that are the worst for allergy sufferers.

An unusual number of state agency heads (seven, in fact) still have ‘acting’ in front of their titles and await Senate confirmation. As Miller also reports, there’s no firm timetable yet for getting that done 

More than a year into the pandemic, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News talked to Gayborhood business owners about how they’re adapting to the new normal — and what that looks like for them.

U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia has proposed a $63 billion plan to bolster housing and stabilize communities, including his hometown. Our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune have the details.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman takes his own look at Biden’s infrastructure plan. And Paul Spiegel, the owner of a clean energy business in the Philly ‘burbs, explains how his industry is poised to help power the new economy. 

En la Estrella-Capital: Pa. le ofrecerá las vacunas contra el COVID-19 a todos a mas tardar el 19 de abril, por Cassie Miller.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – SEPTEMBER 23: Signage at an early voting center on September 23, 2016 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Minnesota residents can vote in the general election every day until Election Day on November 8. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

More Pennsylvania students are studying political science and are running for office, the Inquirer reports.
The Post-Gazette previews what fans can expect as they return to PNC Park for the first time since 2019.
Pennsylvania universities are recommending, but not yet requiring, COVID-19 vaccinations for students, PennLive reports (paywall).
Lancaster County bars saw a slow return of patrons on Sunday as some COVID-19 restrictions ended, LancasterOnline reports.
Pennsylvania begins Phase 1B of its vaccination schedule today. The Morning Call runs down who’s eligible.
Luzerne County municipalities are dealing with soaring recycling costs, the Citizens’ Voice reports.
A popular bike share program could be returning to York, the York Daily Record reports (paywall).

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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A post shared by Michael Yatsko (@yatsko)

PECO has proposed a rate hike that would boost residential bills by nearly 10 percentWHYY-FM reports.
Vaccine passports are the latest political flashpoint in Pa. — and nationwide, the Associated Press reports (via WITF-FM).
PoliticsPA runs down last week’s winners & losers in state politics.
GoErie takes readers inside the city’s large item collection service (paywall).
The Observer-Reporter explains how Washington County churches balanced safety against in-person worship on Easter Sunday. 
looks at efforts to vaccinate residents and staff of long-term care homes.
Roll Call explains how President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan would boost science, tech, and R&D funding.

What Goes On.
The state House convenes at 12 p.m. today. The Appropriations Committee meets at the call of the chair.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
9:30 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Dan Frankel
10 a.m: 
Brunch for Rep. Milou Mackenzie
5:30 p.m.: 
Reception for Kevin Brobson
Ride the circuit, and give at the max today, and you’re out a mildly preposterous $8,500 today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to Adrienne Standley, of the Pennsylvania Budget & Policy Center, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a serious bop to get your working week rolling. From the killer ensemble of No Rome, featuring Charli XCX and The 1975, it’s ‘Spinning.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link. 
Now that MLB has wisely decided to ditch Atlanta for this season’s All-Star Game, you knew it was only a matter of time before publicity-savvy pols started trying to woo them to their home states. Thus, we give you state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa and Sen. Wayne Fontana, both Pittsburgh Dems, who think PNC Park would be a great place to hold the All-Star Game.

PA. Politicians invite MLB to hold the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh by jmicek on Scribd

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.