father Environmental groups see hope, progress on the horizon in Harrisburg

From carbon capture development to electric vehicle infrastructure, environmental organizations across Pennsylvania say they hope energy and environmental policies will be a priority for state legislatures in the new legislative session that begins in January.

Expected with Democrats run the house in the next legislature – albeit by a slim majority – environmentalists said they were looking for legislative consensus on energy and environmental policies.

But they say they know it won’t be easy.

“I think there [are] many [reasons] for optimism,” Mark Szybist, senior advocate for the climate and clean energy program at the National Resource Defense Council, told Capital-Star. “I’m more optimistic than I’ve ever been in my time doing this work.”

In addition to legislation regulating how funds generated by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) could be allocated if it survives current legal challenges, Szybist said Pennsylvanians could potentially see legislation priority of carbon capturea process that would give the state Department of Environmental Protection oversight of underground carbon capture storage projects, to go through the General Assembly at the start of the next session.

“My expectation is that lawmakers interested in Pennsylvania securing a regional hub for clean hydrogen will want to secure the primacy of carbon capture sooner rather than later,” Szybist said blue hydrogen, made from natural gas would require the resulting carbon to be captured and stored.

With applications for regional hydrogen production centers due to the US Environmental Protection Agency in April 2023Szybist said carbon capture would likely be rolled out early next year.

“My expectation is that carbon capture legislation in one form or another – maybe multiple forms – will be something that we will push in 2023,” Szybist said.

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In addition to carbon capture, Szybist said portions of environmental justice legislation that had previously stalled in the General Assembly could be reinstated in a Democrat-controlled House with the support of Democratic government-elected Josh Shapiro.

“There is hope that we will see good legislation in this chamber,” Szybist said. “We could see some good things happening.”

Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, along with other statewide environmental groups millions spent During the 2022 election cycle, to see Shapiro take over the governor’s mansion, he similarly argued that the newly flipped House of Representatives would give the new administration a “strong partner in the legislature.”

“This victory removes power from the oil and gas interests that have long held our legislature in a stranglehold and puts it back in the hands of the people,” Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said in a statement.

While there is reason for optimism, environmental groups are also aware that Pennsylvania has many environmental issues to address, including water pollution from the Commonwealth’s farming industry.

Bill Chain, interim director and senior agricultural program manager at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Pennsylvania, said the Commonwealth “took positive steps in 2022” by allocating $154 million from the state’s Clean Streams Fund for a new cost-sharing program Conservation agriculture named The Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program (ACAP), in the latest state budget.

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But even with that investment, Chain said, the Commonwealth still has work to do to meet its growing environmental commitments.

“As more than 90 percent of the Commonwealth’s remaining pollution mitigation needs to come from agriculture, ACAP is providing farmers with critical resources to get the job done,” Chain said in an email to Capital-Star. “Now it’s up to the new Legislature and the Governor to provide sustainable funding to build on the momentum towards clean water, which is a right for all Pennsylvanians.”

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