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Guest Editorial

Guest Editorial: We can keep Pennsylvania beautiful without making it poor

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Pennsylvania is the most beautiful state in America—you can’t convince me otherwise.

Amazingly, Pennsylvania is also the nation’s biggest energy exporter, according to the Independent Fiscal Office.

How do we manage to combine such a rich natural environment with a thriving energy industry? The secret is Pennsylvania’s abundant natural gas deposit, the second largest in the world, which produces power with drastically less pollution and just half the carbon emissions of coal.

Replacing coal plants with natural gas has reduced Pennsylvania’s overall emissions by 23% since 1990, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). At the same time, it has created thousands of jobs and economic benefits for our state.

Strangely, though, our energy sector has come under fierce attack from government leaders who like to tout their environmentalist credentials. President Biden smeared the natural gas industry during his campaign, and his new regulations and fee increases have sent fuel and utility prices through the roof. Regulatory obstacles forced energy companies in Pennsylvania to scrap plans in September for a 116-mile pipeline to export gas to New Jersey. The Wall Street Journal editorial board points to “one ironic result”—that this will force our eastern neighbor to burn more heavily-polluting oil to heat homes this winter.

At the recent COP26 UN Climate Change Conference, Biden wouldn’t apologize for the damage his policies have caused, including skyrocketing gas prices. He told attendees to view the current “volatility in energy prices,” not as a “reason to back off our clean energy goals,” but as a “call to action.” The Biden administration has continued doubling down on energy policies that have only made lives harder and haven’t helped the environment at all.

As Katie Tubb, a senior policy analyst with the Thomas A. Roe Institute, put it, “it’s not reasonable or laudable to push policies that have real costs to American families and businesses and further erode the American system of limited, representative government for no environmental benefit.”

Pennsylvania is one of the most important energy-producing regions in the world. Without our natural gas industry, the shortage would be even worse and people’s energy bills even higher.

But our own governor, Tom Wolf, has followed Biden in attacking our energy sector—spouting political rhetoric about protecting the environment while undermining the most realistic solution to strengthen the economy and reduce carbon emissions. He is currently trying to force Pennsylvania into the Regional Green House Gas Initiative (RGGI), a carbon tax and credit scheme that would penalize the use of natural gas for energy.

The legislature has staunchly opposed RGGI because it will cost the state an estimated 22,000 jobs and increase energy bills by $2 billion over nine years.

To add insult to injury, adopting RGGI will make it very difficult to do what Pennsylvania does best—export energy. RGGI penalties and regulations will block Pennsylvania’s clean natural gas from going to neighboring states, forcing them to rely on alternatives like coal and even oil imported from abroad. That’s why other states who have enacted RGGI are falling behind Pennsylvania in terms of reducing their carbon footprint.

This has a negative impact on the environment and makes utility bills higher for working families. It’s a lose-lose.

But politicians like Biden and Wolf seem to care more about appeasing unhinged protesters than finding a way to both protect Pennsylvania’s beautiful ecosystem and ensure we have a reliable energy source. They’re happy to impose regulations that are just for show—and apparently couldn’t care less about how their politicking hurts working Pennsylvanians by killing jobs and spiking energy bills. Average citizens will have to pay millions more dollars, both for their utilities and the taxes that cover state-funded utilities assistance programs—all while “green energy” lobbyists benefit.

These lobbyists push for government-subsidized alternative energy sources like solar power. Solar may not directly pollute the air, but the mining, manufacturing, and disposal of solar panels is a severe source of pollution and dangerous waste—and the construction of new solar fields required by RGGI would obliterate 200 square miles of Pennsylvania’s beautiful landscape. Meanwhile, these massive solar eyesores only produce electricity at an unreliably slow rate.

If our misguided leaders, like Biden and Wolf, were taking sincere steps to keep Pennsylvania beautiful, it could be worth making certain sacrifices. But arbitrary regulations and flashy green energy virtue-signaling don’t deliver significant positive impacts and too often hurt the environment.

In short, showman environmentalism is a flop. It impedes genuine long-term investments necessary to responsibly produce energy and steward both the beauty of our state and economic opportunity for our people.

Stephen Bloom, a former state representative, is vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.

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