With a proposed ban in N.Y., Erie lawmaker invites National Fuel Gas to relocate to Pa.

‘Pennsylvania is pro-natural gas, and we’re not going to do these ridiculous mandates like the governor of New York is trying to do,’ Sen. Dan Laughlin told the Capital-Star

By: - January 11, 2022 9:19 am

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The centerpiece to a New York climate action plan has some Pennsylvania lawmakers eyeing an opportunity to bring a natural gas company’s headquarters to the commonwealth.

Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, has plans to formally invite National Fuel Gas to relocate to Erie County, following New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s backing of a proposed ban on natural gas hookups in new buildings, with state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, also supporting the move.

“I want to stamp this out and make a statement right now,” Laughlin told the Capital-Star during a Monday phone interview. “Pennsylvania is pro-natural gas, and we’re not going to do these ridiculous mandates like the governor of New York is trying to do.”

The proposed ban in New York is part of a multipronged climate action plan, which includes reaching 70 percent renewable energy by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050. It comes amid an ongoing, national debate over cutting down on fossil fuels to combat climate change. Critics, including the fossil fuel industry and its allies, argue that curbing demand will raise the cost of utility bills while ultimately doing little to stop climate change.

Laughlin said conversations with National Fuel Gas have been ongoing since he was first elected. Hochul’s endorsement, which came amid a swarm of statewide clean energy investment announcements, of legislation that would require all new construction to use zero-emission heat sources by 2027, ultimately prioritizing electricity over fossil fuels, “spawned a fresh round of discussions, Laughlin said.

A spokesperson for the Williamsville, N.Y.,-based gas supplier, which employs more than 2,000 across western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, did not respond to a message seeking comment. The company also has some Pennsylvania-based customer assistance call centers.

Erie County is home to eight federal opportunity zones, which provide tax benefits to investors who develop in the zones, often based in low-income urban and rural communities nationwide. If the move were to become a reality, it could bring jobs to the region and spur economic growth.

“I realize that this is a big ‘if’ at this point, but if national Fuel entertains moving their headquarters to Erie, Pennsylvania, I would expect Gov. [Tom] Wolf to be involved with trying to incentivize that move or whoever is the next governor,” Laughlin said.

A spokesperson for the governor told the Capital-Star in a statement that the administration will work with statewide partners to help companies interested in establishing their headquarters in Pennsylvania throughout their evaluation process.

Laughlin, who has also introduced legislation to incentivize and support solar energy production, said the New York proposal limits energy choice and makes people pay more for electricity.

Natural gas, when burned, produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal and 30 percent less than oil, according to the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. But climate scientists have said that increased natural gas production is “emerging as one of the biggest drivers of climate change,” Reuters reported.

So-called “energy choicebills that would prohibit local municipalities from restricting or banning a utility based on the energy source powering it have popped up in Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature.

Work to draft a formal invitation from the Erie delegation to National Fuel Gas is ongoing, Laughlin said.

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Marley Parish
Marley Parish

A Pennsylvania native, Marley Parish covers the Senate for the Capital-Star. She previously reported on government, education and community issues for the Centre Daily Times and has a background in writing, editing and design. A graduate of Allegheny College, Marley served as editor of the campus newspaper, where she also covered everything from student government to college sports.

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