Pennsylvania was once an environmental leader. We can be again.

Swing State

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

It was a heady time for the state's environmental community eight years ago.

As I worked to raise money for green buildings and as an advocate at the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, I was a firsthand witness as the environmental and business communities made progress together in Pennsylvania and across the country. 

With then Governor Ed Rendell and former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty at the helm of our state, it seemed that everyone was working together envisioning a green future. Across party lines, the Assembly was doing the work of attracting new jobs from renewable energy and cleantech companies. We had aggressive statewide goals for increasing how much alternative energy we used. We were investing in green stormwater infrastructure and continuing to take common sense actions like regularly adopting new building codes that called for greater energy and water efficiency standards. Foundations were aggressively funding groundbreaking work. 

With wind in our sails at the state level and Philadelphia’s Mayor Nutter striding into office on a solid sustainability platform, it seemed as though every day came with a political victory or an innovative collaboration among visionary leaders. 

It should be no surprise that it was during this wave of progress and optimism that Grid magazine was born. I was thrilled to see it and was one of its first 10 subscribers. But while progress has continued in our City, Harrisburg is grinding to a halt. Movement started stalling after a significant power shift in the Assembly on the heels of Tea Party activism nationally and the arrival of Gov. Tom Corbett. Now, we’re moving backward.

While the threat of climate change looms larger than ever, as our air and water continue to be degraded, Assembly members beholden to fossil fuel interests are routinely using arcane committee rules and mind-numbing procedural tactics to stifle dissent and systematically weaken regulations. Established politicians are, against house rules, openly launching personal attacks on the floor of the Assembly against new legislators who dare to provide research on the health impacts of fracking, even when the regulations at hand were crafted under a Republican governor. The foundations have abandoned their previous funding priorities, and advocates—more than ever—are underfunded and overworked.

There have always been detractors: The former chair of the Assembly’s Environmental Resources & Energy Committee used to keep a dart board in her office bearing a picture of the face of the executive director of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. But today, the number of detractors is overwhelming, and when it comes to attacking the environment, their aim couldn’t be more true—or less transparent to the public.

That’s why Grid’s cover story this month looks at the state of state politics, and we’re going to bring you ongoing coverage of what goes on in our state’s capitol. If we want Harrisburg to care about Philadelphia, we’ve got to care what goes on in Harrisburg. We’re going to help keep you informed and give you ways to take action. While we will always be a magazine focused on and committed to the Philadelphia region, we are still all Pennsylvanians. Our state needs a new, more progressive wave of legislators to step up and serve without the muzzle of fossil fuel money keeping them from articulating a sane vision for our state. That won’t happen without our help. 

Pennsylvania is a Commonwealth state, founded with the intention of serving the common good and protecting our shared resources. A lot is at stake. As Pennsylvania goes, so goes the country—and so goes the world.