Is Pennsylvania Building a Bridge or Gang Plank?

bridgeConventional wisdom and talking points about renewable energy sources claim “we are not there yet”, meaning the technology isn’t competitive with fossil fuel.

The definition of a bridge is a structure carrying a road, path, railroad, or canal across a river, ravine, road, railroad, or other obstacle. The obstacle is our need for energy without further damaging our world.

We know fossil fuels contribute to damaging our environment and this trickles down to severe health problems, that’s one side of the bridge.   On the other side are renewable energy sources which will benefit our environment, our health and yes our economy.

The natural gas industry claims it can be the bridge, mostly by not using coal or oil as a major fuel source.   What the natural gas industry doesn’t mention is natural gas is a fossil fuel. Yes, natural gas burns cleaner than coal at the end, but getting it out of the ground and to your home is as bad if not worse than other fossil fuels.

Under former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett we saw the natural gas industry grow enormously; many gifts were given to them. Pennsylvania agencies tasked with protecting people, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) earned the nickname of Department of Energy Profits or Don’t Expect Protection.   The Pennsylvania Department of Health was ordered to ignore health complaints related to natural gas activities. From 2011-2015, it was a FRACK BABY FRACK party.

Corbett was defeated in 2014 by the now Governor Tom Wolf.   One of Wolf’s campaign promises was to impose a severance tax on natural gas and use the money for everything from restoring education funding to road repair.   None of it would go to restoring water supplies to homes where their water has been contaminated by natural gas activities and none towards renewable energy.

Originally Pennsylvania had just one advisory committee for oil and gas. An advisory committee in this capacity has no power to dictate regulations or pass them. It can only make suggestions or recommendations which may or may not be enacted through the legislative process.

The Corbett version was packed with oil and gas interests who held the power positions with the ability to vote on suggested recommendation. Non-voting members, regardless of their position on the issues, could express their views but not vote.

Recognizing there is a difference, albeit small one, between conventional and unconventional drilling, Wolf took a Solomon approach and divided the committees into two.

The Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board would focus on unconventional oil and gas drilling for the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) which combined vertical and horizontal drilling and chemicals to fracture shale and release the oil or gas.

The second became Conventional Oil & Gas drilling, which dealt with the more traditional vertical well drilling.

Not surprising, with Wolf’s attitude of “wanting cake and eat it too”, both committees are packed with industry interests in voting membership positions.

More recently, Wolf formed yet another committee, the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, to be comprised of stakeholders who would collaborate to achieve a world-class pipeline infrastructure system. As of this writing, the membership list has not been made public but we expect it to look similar to the other two advisory committees.

One end of the bridge is nearing completion with 3 advisory entities focused on oil & gas.

In his first budget address as Governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf proposed $325 million in investments in the state’s energy sector, including investments in wind, solar, and energy efficiency.

Sounds good until you get to the fine print and learn out of $325 million only $70 million will go towards renewable energy.

Pennsylvania is subsidizing fossil fuels at a cost of almost $2.9 billion per year. Pennsylvania’s fossil fuel subsidies come primarily in the form of tax exemptions, with only a handful of applicable tax credits and grant programs. In addition to federal subsidies, Pennsylvania tacks on additional subsidies such as tax breaks and grant programs that benefit the use or production of fossil fuels. With respect to energy, there is no free and competitive market, least of all in Pennsylvania.

Wolf states in his budget proposal: (emphasis added)

 My budget will make Pennsylvania a national leader once again in clean energy production like solar and wind and I will work to protect coal and continue Pennsylvania’s traditions of harvesting timber and hardwood.

 Notice he will protect coal and continue to chop down trees?

gangplankAlso note, Pennsylvania was never the leader in clean energy production. Renewable energy (excluding conventional hydropower) accounted for only 2.5% of the Pennsylvania’s electricity generation in 2013. Currently, Pennsylvania ranks 41 out of 50 states for use of renewable energy sources.

Pennsylvania has 3 government advisory entities, packed with industry interests, devoted to oil & gas.


Where’s the advisory committee or task force for renewable energy?

Where’s the bridge?

Or is Pennsylvania really just building a gangplank?



©2015 by Dory Hippauf




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