Wednesday, December 22, 2021

7 Environmental Groups Oppose State Legislation To Preempt Local Governments From Making Clean Energy Decisions That Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions

On December 22, seven environmental groups, representing tens of thousands of Philadelphia residents, announced they issued a letter to Philadelphia City Council, Mayor Jim Kenney, and Controller Rebecca Rhynhart expressing concern over the efforts of Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) to undercut the city’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The letter reads as follows: 

The undersigned organizations representing tens of thousands of Philadelphia residents are greatly concerned by the actions of Philadelphia Gas Works’ (PGW) executives to influence the Pennsylvania General Assembly, specifically to enact statewide legislation to preempt the authority of the City of Philadelphia, and all local governments, to determine how to best meet the needs of their residents. 

This legislation is Senate Bill 275 [Yaw-R-Lycoming] in the State Senate and House Bill 1947 [O’Neal-R-Washington] in the State House; these are identical companion bills. 

Throughout its history, Philadelphia has been a leader in innovative policies that have benefited its residents. Many of those policies have then been adopted at the state level. 

Philadelphia City Council has been a leader in pushing back on the General Assembly’s attempts at preemption. 

For example, earlier this year, environmental groups worked closely with the City Law Department to block the state legislature's effort to preempt the City of Philadelphia’s decision to regulate the use of plastic bags. 

More recently, Philadelphia City Council passed Resolution # ​​210374 that explicitly called upon the Pennsylvania General Assembly to reject the very preemption legislation that PGW has lobbied for, and worked to strengthen. 

It makes no sense to allow one of its agencies, PGW, to work to undermine the city’s position to have the power to adopt critical environmental policies like cleaning up our building stock.

On November 24, Susan Phillips published an article on that detailed efforts by PGW executives to undermine Philadelphia’s sovereign authority. 

The article, PGW emails show involvement in drafting bill that runs counter to climate goals, states that “PGW executives engaged in crafting, and potentially strengthening, a measure that would block efforts to promote electrification.” 

The preemption bill, Senate Bill 275 passed the Pennsylvania Senate and was sent to the State House in October by a veto-proof margin; it will likely pass in the Republican-controlled House as well. 

The disclosure of these emails and their contents are damning for PGW, and, by extension, Philadelphia’s elected officials and leaders. 

While stating that it was publicly “neutral” on the bill, PGW Vice President for Government and Regulatory Affairs, Greg Stunder, not only worked to support the bill but offered recommendations to strengthen the bill to further limit municipalities’ abilities to reduce usage of gas as an energy source in buildings. 

In addition to PGW’s lobbying the state legislature, it was brought to our attention, confidentially, that Mr. Stunder may have reached out to at least one group in Philadelphia and urged that group to support the bill.

These efforts by PGW directly undercut the city’s ability to decide for itself how it wants to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Over 70 percent of Philadelphia’s GHG pollution comes from burning fossil fuels, including gas, to heat space and water in its buildings. PGW’s gas flows to most of those buildings. Furthermore, PGW’s actions may violate the state’s lobbying law.

Most importantly, if Senate Bill 275, House Bill 1947, or some other version of these proposals becomes law, it will all but ensure that Philadelphia will fail to meet its pledged goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

The undersigned organizations urge the Mayor’s office, City Council, and the City Controller to investigate this matter, hold hearings to gather evidence and, if PGW violated the law by lobbying while publicly misleading Philadelphians and its elected officials about its involvement, you must hold the accountable individuals at PGW responsible. 

We look forward to a response from you on this urgent issue.

The groups signing the letter include Clean Air Council, Evangelical Environmental Network, PennEnvironment, Delaware RiverKeeper Network, Earthworks, Clean Water Action/Fund and Physicians for Social Responsibility-Pennsylvania.

Related Articles:

-- Senate Republicans Pass Bill To Prohibit Communities From Promoting Clean Energy, Energy Efficiency; House Republicans Move Companion Bill

-- Local, State Environmental Groups Express Opposition To Proposed Nacero Natural Gas To Gasoline Refinery In Luzerne County 

-- Philadelphia Citizen Guest Essay: Why Isn’t Philadelphia Gas Works Fixing Natural Gas Leaks Next To Schools, Many Other Areas?  - By Melissa Ostroff, EarthWorks

-- YorkDR Guest Essay: Quaker Investors Urge EPA To Advance Strong Methane Emission Rules For Oil and Gas Operations  

[Posted: December 22, 2021]  PA Environment Digest

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