A heron is perched on a piling at sunrise on the Chesapeake Bay in Chesapeake Beach (Photo by yvonnenavalaney/stock.adobe.com/Maryland Matters).
When it comes to its environmental votes, Pennsylvania’s 253-member General Assembly is a legislative “Jekyll and Hyde,” veering between approving commonsense bills protecting the commonwealth’s natural resources, even as lawmakers pursue constitutional changes that could roll back efforts to regulate greenhouse gases.
Those are among the findings of a recently released legislative scorecard compiled by a coalition of environmental advocacy groups ahead of this November’s midterm elections.
“We develop this scorecard every legislative session so Pennsylvanians can quickly and easily see how their state representative and state senator voted on important environmental issues,” Jen Quinn, the legislative and political director for the state’s chapter of the Sierra Club, which participated in the scorecard, said in a statement.
“When we see bills being passed that will leave taxpayers on the hook for billions of dollars to clean up the gas industry’s messes, or that strip away local decision-making from municipalities regarding energy issues, the importance of our scorecard becomes crystal clear,” Quinn continued. “An informed and engaged citizenry is critical to our democracy and can hold elected officials who disregard the environment and public health accountable at the ballot box.”
All 203 members of the state House and half the 50-member state Senate are on the fall ballot, along with marquee races for Congress, the U.S. Senate and the Governor’s Office.
The report card, which ranks all 253 lawmakers in the House and Senate, measured votes in the 2021-22 legislative session, which ends in November.
All told, 61 lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state House scored 100 percent for their environmental records this session, while 94 representatives notched a goose egg for their votes, the groups, which also included Conservation Voters of PA, Clean Air Action Fund and Clean Water Action found in their evaluation.
On the other side of the Capitol, 12 lawmakers in the Republican-controlled state Senate had perfect scores, while “several senators saw their scores jump from zero to 9 percent,” as a result of their vote on a bill protecting children from lead poisoning, the advocacy groups ruled.
“The Legislature’s overall operations have been Jekyll and Hyde in nature,” Steve Hvozdovich, the Pennsylvania campaigns director for Clean Water Action, said.
“On the one hand, we saw an across-the-board increase in average scores and more 100 percent voting records- which helps explain how we were able to advance legislation for the first time in three sessions to ensure testing that’ll help more accurately identify childhood lead poisoning,” he continued. “Yet on the other hand, special interests’ continued influence was also clear in the greater number of 0 percent voting records and the uptick in Democrats with scores 50 percent or worse.”
That mixed record, for instance, led to the advancement of a Republican-authored bill (SB597) “[opening] up our public water systems to privatization threats,” Hvozdovich said.
Pennsylvania is one of six states that guarantees constitutional right to clean air, pure water, and preservation of the natural environment. The advocacy groups dinged lawmakers for a package of proposed constitutional amendments that includes language that they say could roll back environmental protection regulations, pollution reduction efforts, and initiatives aimed at combating climate change in Pennsylvania.
The amendment package (SB106), which also includes measures aimed at curtailing voting rights and abortion access, could be on the statewide ballot as soon as next spring.
“Our environmental scorecard is meant to shine a light on irresponsible attempts to ignore Pennsylvanians’ rights to clean air, clean water, and a fair democratic process,” Katie Blume, the political and legislative director for Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
Lawmakers have chosen, “to legislate via the constitutional amendment process, so for the first time we have scored a constitutional amendment bill … which creates restrictions on voters’ rights and jeopardizes the balance of power between the governor and the Legislature,” Blume continued. “Our elected officials and their constituents know that our environmental organizations will join countless other advocates to keep voters informed about legislative action in Harrisburg.”
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