Home debate Debate over Pennsylvania climate policy leads to contentious committee hearing

Debate over Pennsylvania climate policy leads to contentious committee hearing

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One testifier argued that hosting a hearing to present both sides of the climate change debate was akin to hosting a debate on whether the Sandy Hook shooting actually took place. The committee’s Republican chairman told his Democratic counterpart that he was out of order and to turn off his microphone.

And it was evident at multiple points during Monday’s Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy committee hearing that lawmakers and testifiers on both sides of the issue felt that their opponents were cherry-picking facts and ignoring key points.

Chairman Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry Township, convened the hearing in the aftermath of the Wolf administration’s decision to begin moving the state toward membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program for carbon emissions. Just last month, Metcalfe had sparred with Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Patrick McDonnell over the possibility that the state might join RGGI.

Like other cap-and-trade programs, RGGI establishes limits on how much carbon companies – typically energy producers such as natural gas and coal companies – can emit into the environment. Companies would be able to buy and trade credits that permit them to exceed the caps, with the proceeds of those purchases going to the state.

With McDonnell seated before his committee again, Metcalfe revisited his concern that Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf had exceeded his powers by cutting lawmakers out of a key decision.

“Can you assure … that you’re going to be back to see us for whatever tax is going to be needed to implement the RGGI strategy?” Metcalfe asked the secretary, echoing a similar question from September.

McDonnell largely avoided answering the question, instead talking about the authority the governor has under past legislation to take steps to address environmental concerns.

“Many of our legislative authorities … are written in ways that recognize that things change over time,” he said. “So carbon, again, according to the federal government, at this point is a regulated pollutant.”

Kevin Dayaratna, a statistician with the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told committee members that programs like RGGI and the Green New Deal proposed by some Democrats in Congress would do little to actually affect global temperatures while simultaneously wreaking havoc on the state’s economy.

“Overall employment plummets significantly,” Dayaratna said, describing a scenario of the impacts of implementing the Green New Deal. “You have an average employment shortfall of over 1.1 million lost jobs through 2040, and a peak employment shortfall over 5 million lost jobs. Family income drops. Another consequence, a loss annually of over $8,000 for a family of four, amounting to 160,000 lost income over a 20 year time horizon, more than enough to send several kids to college.”

David Masur, executive director of PennEnvironment, an advocacy organization, argued that even inviting testimony from individuals who doubt the need to reduce carbon emissions was akin to debating whether whites were the superior race, whether the Sandy Hook shootings took place or whether the world is flat.

“This is not how science works in the United States,” Masur said. “The time for these types of debates has long passed. The scientific consensus regarding climate change is overwhelming.”

Metcalfe condemned Masur’s remarks, saying that his staff had received Masur’s prepared testimony late Sunday and hadn’t had sufficient time to review it – otherwise, he said, Masur would’ve been directed not to make such statements.

“If the testimony wouldn’t have come in late last night, we would have caught that there was such disparaging remarks … from Mr. Masur with PennEnvironment,” Metcalfe said. “To make the types of comparisons he did and try and disparage people on the other side of the argument, ultimately, I think shows the type of arguments that he’s proffering.”

Rep. Greg Vitali, the Democratic chairman, disputed whether there was anything wrong with Masur’s remarks.

“For the record, Mr. Masur’s remarks were not disparaging, in my opinion,” Vitali said. “In fact, they were very compelling.”

“Representative Vitali, you are out of order, and your opinion wasn’t asked for,” Metcalfe replied. “But I think that any citizen, reading that, would recognize … those types of remarks are disparaging, trying to make that type of an alignment with people that oppose your ideas. Please shut your microphone off, sir. You’re not recognized at this time.”

“Well, I’ll just respectfully disagree with you,” Vitali said.