Governor Wolf's Troubling PIPE Program

The Paris Climate Agreement took effect on November 4th, but not without the warning that its terms still guarantee a 3 degree C. planetary temperature increase. Climate experts say we need to do better, that anything more than a 2 degree increase is too much. They implore us to leave fossil fuels in the ground. Days earlier, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf effectively ensured that his state will be part of the problem, not part of the solution, when he announced his new Pipeline Investment Program (PIPE).

Multi-million dollar investments in pipeline construction are not the sort of investments that are made for the short term. The PIPE program will help pay for distribution lines to deliver gas to businesses, industrial parks, municipalities, hospitals, and schools and that means the state plans to be drilling for natural gas for a long time.

The climate concerns don’t stop there, however. Natural gas pipelines leak methane, the main ingredient in natural gas. Leaks occur at every point in the production of natural gas. Raw methane is 86 times more heat-trapping than carbon dioxide is when it hits the atmosphere.

Ignoring all of that to press on with continued development of natural gas infrastructure makes Wolf the particular type of climate denier who claims to acknowledge a problem, but who pushes policies and programs that only make things worse.

The PIPE program is an especially egregious expression of Wolf’s climate denialism. The release on the governor’s website states that the PIPE program is administered by the Commonwealth Financing Authority and “funded through the reallocation of two fiscal years of funding from a previously underutilized program.” If fails to mention that the “underutilized program” was the High Performance Green Building Program established by the Alternative Energy Investment Act.

The High Performance Green Building Program has been underutilized because of problems that are fixable and worth the effort, say green building advocates. Aurora Sharrard, Executive Director of the Green Building Alliance, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that expanding the eligible applicants and types of buildings would help. Jeremy Sigmon, Director of Technical Policy for the U.S. Green Building Council, noted that green construction is “projected to account for 342,000 jobs in Pennsylvania by 2018”.

Wolf didn’t balk at the legislature’s move to redirect the money without trying to fix the problems or, at least, using the money to fund other programs under the Alternative Energy Investment Act. In fact, he had his own plans to use the funds for a business development initiative. “We believe the funding can be much better utilized in this manner,” his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, said. In the end, however, the PIPE program was the realization of a different dream of Wolf’s that was shot down in the protracted battle to pass a 2015 budget. He had proposed allocating $25 million of the revenue from the severance tax he sought for what he called the Last Mile Natural Gas Distribution Line Fund. The fund would have extended distribution lines to factories and business parks. The PIPE program adds municipalities, hospitals, and school districts to the list of eligible recipients.

The same methane leaks that are making the atmosphere sizzle are wreaking havoc on the ground, as well, as are a laundry list of fracking chemicals and substances released when shale is fractured. Leaks, spills, blowouts, blow downs, explosions, and fires have exposed countless Pennsylvanians in frontline communities to toxins. Children, the elderly, and the infirmed are particularly vulnerable to toxins in the water and air near drilling operations. Last month, Environment America published its latest findings that, in Pennsylvania, 757 daycare centers, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes are within two miles of a fracked well. Pitching a new pipeline program to the very institutions that will be harmed the most by continued drilling is unconscionable, especially in light of recent science.

A Yale study published days after Wolf’s announcement of the PIPE program linked cancer-causing chemicals to fracking. The authors expressed particular concern for children since some of the chemicals have been associated with childhood leukemia and isolated 55 chemicals that need to be studied. In recent months, proximity to fracking has also been linked to asthma attacks, low birth weight, risk pregnancies, fatigue, migraines, and respiratory conditions.

With so much cause for concern and such clear direction from the Yale researchers, the need for a moratorium has never been clearer.

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