Pa. environmental groups see hope, progress on the horizon in Harrisburg

With Democrats expected to lead the House in the next legislative session – albeit with a slim majority – environmental advocates said that they’re looking for lawmakers to reach a consensus on energy and environmental policies

By: - November 25, 2022 6:30 am
Pennsylvania Capitol Building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

From carbon capture development to electric vehicle infrastructure, environmental organizations across Pennsylvania say they are hopeful that energy and environmental policies will be a priority for state lawmakers in the new legislative session that starts in January.

With Democrats expected to lead the House in the next legislative session – albeit with a slim majority – environmental advocates said they’re looking for lawmakers to reach a consensus on energy and environmental policies. 

But they say they know it won’t be easy. 

“I think there [are] lots of [reasons] for optimism,” Mark Szybist, the senior attorney for the Climate and Clean Energy Program at the National Resource Defense Council, told the Capital-Star. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been in my time doing this work.”

In addition to legislation governing how funds generated through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) could be allocated if it survives current legal challenges, Szybist said Pennsylvanians could potentially see legislation on carbon capture primacy, a process which would give the state Department of Environmental Protection oversight of underground carbon capture storage projects, move through the General Assembly early in the next session.  

“My expectation is that legislators who are interested in Pennsylvania securing a regional clean hydrogen hub will want to secure carbon capture primacy sooner rather than later,” Szybist said, noting that blue hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas, would require that the resulting carbon is captured and stored. 

With applications for regional hydrogen production hubs due to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in April 2023, Szybist said carbon capture would likely be introduced early next year. 

“I expect carbon capture legislation in some form or another – maybe multiple forms – is something that we will see pushed in 2023,” Szybist said.  

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In addition to carbon capture, Szybist said pieces of environmental justice legislation, which have previously stalled in the General Assembly, could be reintroduced in a Democratic-controlled House with support from Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.

“There’s hope that we’ll see good legislation move in that chamber,” Szybist said. “We could see some good things happen.” 

Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, which, in conjunction with other statewide environmental groups, spent millions during the 2022 election cycle to see Shapiro take the governor’s mansion, similarly argued that the newly flipped state House gives the incoming administration  a “strong partner in the Legislature.”

“This victory takes power away from the oil and gas interests that have long had a stranglehold on our legislature and puts it back into the hands of the people,” Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said in a statement. 

While there’s cause for optimism, environmental groups are also aware that Pennsylvania has many environmental concerns to address, including water pollution from the commonwealth’s agriculture industry. 

Bill Chain, interim director and senior agriculture program manager for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Pennsylvania, said that the commonwealth took “positive steps in 2022” by allocating $154 million from the state Clean Streams Fund to a new agricultural conservation cost-share program called the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), in the most recent state budget.

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But even with that investment, Chain said the commonwealth still has a lot of work to do to fulfill its mounting environmental commitments. 

“As more than 90 percent of the commonwealth’s remaining pollution reductions must come from agriculture, ACAP provides critical resources for farmers to get the job done,” Chain told the Capital-Star in an email. “Now it is up to the new legislature and Governor to provide sustainable funding to build on momentum toward the clean water that is a right for all Pennsylvanians.”

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Cassie Miller
Cassie Miller

A native Pennsylvanian, Cassie Miller worked for various publications across the Midstate before joining the team at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. In her previous roles, she has covered everything from local sports to the financial services industry.