PA’s Constitutional Amendment on the Environment Gets Some Recognition

This article by Donna Morelli outlines how two recent court cases in Pennsylvania have bolstered the strength of environmental rights in the Commonwealth.

She argues that

twice in the last four years, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has rendered decisions putting teeth in the environmental rights amendment — first, in a lawsuit over whether communities have the power to bar hydraulic fracturing and, later, over how the legislature is spending revenue derived from leasing state forestland for “fracking,” as the controversial natural gas extraction method is known.

Read more here: http://www.circleofblue.org/2018/world/pennsylvanias-environmental-rights-amendment-grows-teeth/

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Cars, California and Federalism

by Catherine Long

A common theme among the blog posts we have discussed throughout the semester has been President Trump’s dedication to reversing most Obama-era policies in relation to the environment. This article continues this theme, however there is also an added element of federalism at work. Through the 1970 Clean Air Act, the EPA has worked to reduce the emissions from cars by setting stricter fuel economy standards. Under President Obama, great strides were taken to ensure this would be the case until 2025, almost ten years after his departure. The 1970 Clean Air Act also allowed for waivers to be given to states who wanted to set their own fuel economy standards. California has participated in this system and wishes to set stricter fuel economy standards in order to encourage growth in the electric car sector. However, upon taking office, President Trump assured the automobile industry that he along with the head of the EPA Scott Pruitt would review the standards set by the EPA under President Obama and that he would set the standards at a level that would allow cars to be made in America again. Appealing to the growth of the economy and an increase in American manufacturing has been a tactic President Trump has used since his Presidential campaign. However, California plans to move ahead with its stricter standards. This creates a dilemma because car manufacturers have to decide whether to follow California’s standards in order for their cars to be bought in that state or follow the much lower national standards and potentially lose buyers in California. In order to solve this dilemma, California has tried to negotiate with the Trump administration by stating that they will lower their standards if Trump prolongs the Obama-era standards until 2030. This article offers an interesting insight into how states are attempting to influence environmental policy under a President who doesn’t subscribe to environmentally friendly policy.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/03/13/epa-administrator-pruitt-says-california-is-not-the-arbiter-of-the-nations-emission-standards/?utm_term=.e260c6f1af6d

California’s Cap and Trade Program

by Stephanie Laurancy

This article discusses California’s efforts in reducing greenhouse gas emissions particularly through discussing the extension of the cap-and-trade program. Republican assemblyman Matias Davis, was one of eight republican state legislators to support the cap and trade extension which would add a decade extending it to 2030. Cap-and-trade limits (puts a “cap” on) companies thus minimizing the number of greenhouses gasses they emit. Should the companies exceed the limit, they may be penalized and penalties may become more strict overtime. The trade portion comes in as a market where companies can buy or sell allowances that permit them to emit only a certain amount of emissions. Although the “cap” portion of cap and trade may be very strict, the trade part provides a great incentive for companies to save money by reducing emissions. Republicans in the state typically do not support the cap-and-trade as it has been describing as “government overreach”. Cap-and-trade has helped with the reduction of carbon emissions; however, the program still faces strong opposition.

The idea of the program being considered to be “government overreach” raises the point that we discussed in class: Should the government get involved in environmental policy?

I would love to hear your opinions on the article.

WV State Rep Candidate Gets in Trouble for Outing Oil and Gas Contributions to Legislators

by Lauren Geitz

Lissa Lucas (D) is running for a statehouse seat in District 7 of West Virginia. This first-time candidate was relativity unknown and had a modest long-term campaign goal of raising $1,500 to purchase yard signs. However, this all changed when she attended a West Virginia House Judiciary Committee in February.

Lissa Lucas got into politics because her grandfather left her his farm with a small gas well located on it. Recently more state politicians in WV have been accepting money from energy companies in exchange for passing legislation that gives energy companies authority over landowners property. Lissa wanted to bring awareness to this issue within her state by running for office and attending the West Virginia House Judiciary Committee meeting. This meeting was a hearing for a bill that allowed energy companies to use private property for drilling without getting the landowners permission. In attendance were several lobbyists for the energy companies, and Lissa Lucas.

She signed up for a speaking slot and started listing committee Republicans and the donations they had taken from donors linked to the oil-and-gas industry. Midway into her speech, committee chairman Del. John Shott (R) interrupted her and had her forcibly removed from the meeting for making “personal comments.”

Since the incident at the meeting occurred, Lissa Lucas has received over $20,000 in campaign donations.

Was committee chairman Del. John Shott (R) justifiable in having Lissa Lucas removed from the meeting?

Should politicians be allowed to receive donations from donors linked to the oil-and-gas industry?

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2018/02/12/she-was-naming-lawmakers-who-took-oil-and-gas-money-so-they-barred-her-from-the-public-hearing/?utm_term=.d55c9061bcf8

States Pick up Slack with Federal Enviro Cuts

by Remo Diventura

The Trump Administration’s budget cuts include reducing federal environmental protections by millions of dollars. As a result, state governments are filling the gaps, with 23 states (including PA) proposing a combined total of 112 new policies to limit exposure to toxic chemicals. This isn’t about emissions or pollution specifically, but about what one is calling “common sense chemical reform”. This includes banning some pesticides, paint removers, fire-retardants, plastic additives, and water regulations. The belief behind this is to help not only the environment by removing harmful chemicals, but with public health. Many of these regulations are aimed at fixing the overburdened healthcare system. In Pennsylvania specifically, two bills have been proposed. One bans the use of a certain chemical (bisphenol-A) in food and beverage containers. The other requires the Environmental Quality Board to adopt a limit on perfluorinated chemicals in drinking water.

What these regulations will do to either public health or the environment is not really known. But the fact this is panning out in the current presidential administration is interesting to see, especially with many of these states also vowing to continue with the Paris Agreement regardless.

http://www.ehn.org/states-toxic-chemicals-legislation-epa-2534500012.html

State Legislators and Sexual Harassment

by J. Wesley Leckrone

Jen Fifield of Stateline has done extensive research on sexual harassment in state legislatures and measures to stop it. In an article today she states

[w]hile anti-harassment training has long been standard in corporate America, that’s not the case in politics. In a sector that mostly polices itself, the lack of regular discussion about what constitutes inappropriate behavior is likely to have contributed to the long-standing misogynist culture that has allowed harassment to fester, according to many female state lawmakers, as well as psychologists who study how to best prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

Fifield’s reporting shows that female legislators “say training alone will not stop harassment”. According to Ohio State Senator Charleta Tavares

[t]he Legislature also needs to create better procedures for reporting harassment to make it clear that women will not face retaliation or threats when they come forward, she said. ‘They are afraid of being blackballed.’

Fifield also provides a Twitter string of recent allegations of sexual harassment in state legislatures. You can find it here.

DGA Chair Confident Dems Will Win Governors Seats in 2018

by J. Wesley Leckrone

There are 36 gubernatorial elections in the United States in 2018. Currently there are only 15 Democratic governors. However, given the political environment Democrats believe they can make gains next year since Republicans will be defending 26 seats in the executive mansion.

The new chair of the Democratic Governors Association, Washington governor Jay Inslee, talked about his strategy for victory with Washington Post reporter James Hohmann. Here are some highlights from the interview:

“We need to talk about jobs,” Inslee said…. “People will figure out for themselves that they have to stand up to Donald Trump. They’re doing that without us saying a word. That’s not our communications strategy. We want to communicate about jobs and the economy. The other thing just happens organically.”

According to Hohmann the DGA will focus on a “’double-P’ strategy: The personality of the president will create the climate for a change election, and then Democrats will focus on prosecuting the case that GOP policies are hurting middle-class families.”

Inslee believes the focus should be on the second “p” since the president’s actions speak for themselves.

“No Democrat running for governor anywhere has to say, ‘Did you notice that Donald Trump has caused nothing but division, hatred and chaos?’ You don’t have to say that because he’s showing it himself. Our people are going to lead with an economic message … and we’re not going to be distracted by his divisiveness. … It’s not ideological. It’s just a rejection of chaos.”

He strongly believes gubernatorial elections will be nationalized in 2018.  Inslee argued that:

“These are referendums on the president, and you cannot escape that….You cannot minimize it. You cannot put on a different hat or a happy face. You are just tied to that smell. And that’s what they’re stuck with. There’s no soap that can erase it. … The guy [voters] wanted to drain the swamp fed the alligators instead.”

Click here for the rest of the article.