By Joseph Minott
On Tuesday, Republicans and Democrats will visit their polling places (or have submitted their primary ballots by mail) to vote for the candidates they want to see on the ballot for the general election this fall. But for the many parts of the state that are overwhelmingly red or blue, Tuesday’s primary basically is the election. The candidate that wins their party’s nomination will go on to win the general election.
And when it comes to environmental issues, especially in a state like Pennsylvania, the differences even between members of the same party are often significant. In preparing to cast your vote, a good first step is getting a handle on the most pressing environmental issues facing the Commonwealth today – then voting for the candidates who have committed to a better future for our air quality and our communities through better policies.
Many energy and environmental issues are inherently connected to Pennsylvania politics.
From our long, complex history as a fossil fuel state and our current role as one of the nation’s largest fracked gas producers to issues around environmental justice in our cities and rural communities, most elected officials touch some energy and pollution issues on the campaign trail and in their work representing constituents.
A candidate is more likely to have a strong track record if environmental issues are part of their focus in the context of issues like the economy, jobs and social justice.
The most pressing issue today and for the indefinite future is the same in Pennsylvania as it is all over the world – climate change. The sad truth is that, despite a broad consensus among scientists and undeniable evidence right here in Pennsylvania, the best bellwether that a candidate is pro-environment is that they believe climate change is real and driven by human activity.
There are still right-wing extremists who proclaim it’s all a “big hoax,” while others have toned down their rhetoric to quietly admit that, perhaps the climate is changing but, even if so, there’s nothing we can do about it.
There’s a range of examples to illustrate the ironclad hold the fossil fuel lobby has over Pennsylvania lawmakers. Candidates who do believe in climate change, however, are aligned with a majority of Pennsylvania voters, nearly two-thirds of whom say the state should do more to address the problems associated with our warming planet.
Even among those politicians willing to admit the dangers of climate change, they don’t always agree about how to respond. Many elected officials cling to the false premise that we must choose between good jobs and a healthy environment. Pennsylvania has long relied on the energy industry as a source of jobs and economic growth.
But the reality today is that, despite significant subsidies and support from Harrisburg and Pennsylvania voters, fossil fuels are doing more harm than good in our communities across the Commonwealth.
Carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas emissions harm our public health and threaten the future of our civilization. Pipelines that carry fossil fuels from a site of extraction to a facility for combustion tear through our backyards, parks, and preserved areas. False promises from fossil fuel companies destroy lives and livelihoods in once-thriving communities.
Voters must look to candidates who are committed to ensuring Pennsylvania maintains its role as a leader in a new, more sustainable energy landscape. Here are a few key issues to look for:
Candidates should support Pennsylvania’s decision to participate in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a bipartisan initiative aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions through an auction-based carbon pricing program. Candidates should not support construction of new fossil fuel drilling and pipeline projects.
Candidates should support laws that give municipalities the power to reduce their own carbon footprint among their residents, including through electrification of our aging residential and commercial buildings.
Candidates should support policies that foster more sustainable, carbon-free transportation options for Pennsylvanians. Candidates should support programs that help Pennsylvania workers develop the skills and knowledge necessary to build careers in green energy sectors like solar and wind power.
On Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters have their first chance to make the environment and clean energy a priority in this election cycle. We must make sure our votes go toward candidates who are focused on protecting the future of the Commonwealth.
Opinion contributor Joseph Minott is the president of Clean Air Action Fund. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. He writes from Philadelphia.
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