By Kate Huangpu
HARRISBURG — In Pennsylvania, it’s usually not a question of whether a statewide candidate is supportive of the oil and gas industry but to what extent.
That’s the case for the leading candidates for Pennsylvania governor, Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano of Franklin County, who will face off this November.
Pennsylvania is one of the largest fossil fuel producers in the U.S, accounting for 9% of the country’s total natural gas production. It’s also the third-largest provider of energy to other states and the fourth-largest carbon dioxide emitter.
However, polling shows that voters in the state are increasingly concerned about climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the industry’s impacts on the environment.
Ahead of the Nov. 8 election, Spotlight PA breaks down where the top candidates stand on major energy and environmental issues:
Fossil fuels and renewable energy
Mastriano has unabashedly and loudly called for deregulation of the state’s fossil fuel industries. In March, he introduced the PA Energy Independence Act, which would make it easier for oil, gas, and coal companies to dig for resources throughout the state.
The bill would mandate that the state Department of Environmental Protection review natural gas and coal permits within 45 days, or the permits would automatically be approved as long as they meet certain conditions. It would also lift the Wolf administration’s ban on leases in state parks and forests, establish a cap on permitting fees for fracking wells, and exempt Pennsylvania’s coal industry from federal regulations.
“We need to open more of our lands for fracking and drilling,” wrote Mastriano in an op-ed supporting expanding Pennsylvania’s energy production. “The blessing of Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania is still underutilized with untapped deposits of natural gas.”
Spotlight PA could not locate any public statements from Mastriano on renewable energy and his campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Shapiro has called for “responsible fracking” and energy production that causes minimal harm to the environment. He has pledged to adopt the recommendations of a grand jury report he commissioned as attorney general that suggested expanding “no-drill” zones, requiring disclosure of fracking chemicals before they are on-site, regulating smaller pipelines, and conducting “comprehensive health responses” to the effects of living near fracking sites.
In a plan on his campaign website, Shapiro said he would invest in the research, development, and design of zero-carbon technologies such as nuclear, hydrogen, and carbon capture, efforts he says would support business and job creation.
He similarly has said he would focus on growing clean energy. On his campaign website, Shapiro said he would raise the 2030 target for renewable or clean electricity production from the current goal of 8% to 30%, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative
Last April, Pennsylvania joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a pledge undertaken by a dozen states to reduce emissions by requiring fossil fuel power plants to purchase allowances to emit carbon dioxide. The profits from allowances then go back into the state to reinvest in renewable energy, flood control measures, or other initiatives.
The state’s participation in the program immediately drew the ire of Republican lawmakers and industry groups, who filed a case in Commonwealth Court to prevent the state from joining. Subsequently, Pennsylvania was not able to participate in the sale of allowances this September.
Mastriano has vocally criticized Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to join RGGI and pledged to pull out of the initiative as governor — a concept he introduced in his energy independence bill. He argues RGGI “will do far more harm than good,” as its regulations would drive companies looking to invest in the energy industry to neighboring states.
The Department of Environmental Protection predicts the program will create over 30,000 jobs, and anticipates it will decrease coal generation. The coal industry employs over 10,000 workers, according to the DEP. One study of other states who participate in RGGI found increased economic activity and job growth. .
Mastriano has also called the effects of RGGI on climate change “negligible.” However, carbon pricing has been shown to reduce emissions, and most environmental, economic, and public policy academics agree that the program will have at least a modest impact on slowing down climate change in the state.
Shapiro has yet to commit to staying in RGGI. On the campaign trail, he’s said he’s not sure RGGI is the most effective way to reduce environmental impact while protecting jobs and affordable energy prices in the state. Shapiro said that he would have to consult with workers and experts before making any decisions.
Climate change and conservation
His campaign has rarely mentioned the conservation of natural resources. When asked how he would protect Pennsylvania’s environment in a candidate survey, he wrote, “I’m an Eagle Scout and respect the environment — we are stewards of the land.”
Shapiro has said he wants to combat climate change while also creating new jobs for Pennsylvanians, arguing it’s a ” false choice between protecting jobs or protecting our planet.”
The Natural Resource Defense Council Action Fund and the Conservation Voters of PA Victory Fund have both come out in support of Shapiro, spending at least half a million dollars on ads criticizing Mastriano.
As attorney general, Shapiro charged Energy Transfer, a pipeline-building company, with environmental crimes including causing damage to wetlands, waterways, and drinking water while constructing liquid natural gas pipelines. He also charged the company with negligence over its role in a 2018 explosion.
Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/the Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and WITF Public Media. Sign up for a free weekly newsletter.
Read Spotlight PA’s complete coverage, plus key dates, campaign finance data, sample ballots & more at our Election Center 2022 website.