Thursday, May 25, 2023

Things Are Different In The House: Hearing On Hydrogen Hubs Became ‘Democracy’ vs. ‘Open Mic Night’

If you want to understand how the House is different under the control of Democrats, you need look no further than actions by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Since Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) became Majority Chair, he has done something no Republican Chair of the Committee did in recent memory-- bring up a bill for consideration in the Committee from the opposite party.

They were small steps to be sure-- House Bill 718 (Mako-R-Northampton) on notifying municipalities of EPA toxics substances violations; a bipartisan bill creating a grant program for solar energy facilities at schools-- House Bill 718-- and House Resolution 104 designating Chesapeake Bay Awareware Week cosponsored by the former House Republican Majority Leader.

Of course, the Committee has moved legislation supported by Democrats.

The Committee this week moved House Bill 962 fixing problems with conventional oil and gas well plugging bonds to prevent future abandonments Democrats supported and Republicans opposed.

Although proposed by Rep. Vitali, Rep. Causer conceded at the May 23 meeting an amendment offered by Rep. Vitali did make “a bad bill somewhat better.”  Read more here.

Hearings held by the Committee so far on conventional oil and gas well abandonment and well plugging; cryptocurrency mining operations and its impact on energy use and climate change; and a hearing on proposed hydrogen hubs and climate change each feature opponents and proponents from different sides of the issue.

‘Democracy’ vs. ‘Open Mic Night’

But it was at the May 22 hearing on hydrogen hubs and climate change that prompted an interesting exchange between new Majority Chair Rep. Vitali (D-Delaware) and new Minority Chair Rep. Matin Causer (R-Cameron).

With a few minutes left at the end of the hearing, Rep. Vitali said, “I've actually taken a look at our House rules, and it actually provides an opportunity for citizen input. So if we have a few minutes, if any citizen has a question who's in the room, either a question or comment, we could receive them now.”

The invitation from Rep. Vitali brought Karen Feridun, co-founder of the Better Path Coalition, to the witness microphone to ask a question about “blue hydrogen” that John Henderson, from Doral Renewables, one of the scheduled witnesses, answered.

At the end of that exchange, Rep. Vitali again invited questions from those attending the hearing.

At that point, Rep. Causer said he had a “point of order” -- “Mr. Chairman, this is a public hearing that was advertised with testifiers, certainly not [an] open mic night.”

He moved to adjourn the meeting.

A second audience member-- Virginia Marcel Kurslake introduced herself as a citizen of Pennsylvania and sat down at the witness table to ask a question.

Rep. Vitali responded to Rep. Causer saying, “No, actually, if you read the House rules, and I did not realize it, but there is a provision in the House rules that requires us to offer public input. I can give you the cite afterwards, but it does require us to take public input at hearings.”

Rep. Causer, “Are you saying that next time I can bring people to sit in the crowd so that they can offer input at a public hearing?”

Rep. Vitali responded, “Well, the approach I will plan to take is if at the conclusion of the hearing there is extra time, I'm going to try to comply with the House rules and offer that input. That's what the rules say. I'll show it to you afterwards. But anyway, your objections are duly noted.”

Rep. Causer reminded Rep. Vitali he made a motion.

The second impromptu witness also asked about blue hydrogen and the miles of pipeline that would be needed to transport the captured carbon dioxide and Abby Smith from Team PA, another scheduled witness, provided a response. 

Rep. Causer continued to pursue his motion to adjourn.

“I still have a proper motion that was made before the committee. I'm looking at the committee rules and it says, "All public hearings shall be open to the public and a reasonable opportunity to be heard shall be afforded all interested parties who have requested an appearance before the committee." 

“So what precedent are you setting that we can have people sitting in the audience and then open the opportunity for them to step forward before the Committee? 

“It's a dangerous precedent,” said Rep. Causer.

Rep. Vitali-- “Democracy can be a dangerous thing.”

Rep. Causer-- “But I don't read the rules as having somebody sitting in the Committee [hearing] as “requesting ahead of time” the opportunity to address the Committee [as the rules say].”

Rep. Vitali-- “We'll take a look at the rules afterwards, but it's my reading that prior requests are not required.”

Rep. Causer-- “I still have a motion before the Committee, and it does not appear that we even have a quorum.”

Rep. Vitali-- “Okay, Does anyone else have any questions or comments before we conclude?  Okay, that concludes this hearing.  We have a voting meeting tomorrow.”

Click Here to watch the video of the hearing.  This exchange begins at the 1 hour 36 minute mark or so.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5075 or by sending email to:


-- The Center Square - Anthony Hennen: Hydrogen Hubs Threaten Taxpayer Waste Without Thoughtful Design 

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: How Appalachia Is Vying For Big Hydrogen And What It Will Mean To Win

-- Forbes - Cyrus Farivar: How PA Politics Are Shaking Up The State’s Cryptocurrency Scene - Tax Credits, Energy Options To Power Bitcoin Data Mining Operations 

-- Inquirer Guest Essay: Cryptocurrency Data Mining In PA Must Be Regulated - By Rep. Greg Vitali, Charles McPhedran, Earthjustice

Related Articles:

-- Democrats On House Environmental Committee Report Out Bill To Help Prevent The Routine Abandonment Of 561 Conventional Oil/Gas Wells A Year  [PaEN]

-- House Committee Unanimously Reports Out Bill Creating Solar Energy Grant Program For Schools; Also Moves Resolution Urging Hydrogen Hub In PA  [PaEN] 

[Posted: May 25, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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