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  • Writer's pictureEnvironmental Health Project

Gov. Shapiro’s Plan Falls Short on Energy Innovation, Public Health Protections

Earlier this year, Gov. Josh Shapiro presented his Ten-Year Strategic Plan for Economic Development in Pennsylvania. While the plan contains many economic approaches beneficial to Pennsylvanians, it’s missing one major component: a clear strategy for expanding sustainable, clean, and renewable energies, which would support public health and create economic prosperity.

 

Although Gov. Shapiro’s ten-year plan promotes a wide swath of energy options, some of them can never be considered clean. This is true of any energy option that continues to rely on fossil fuels such as shale gas (sometimes called hydraulic fracturing or fracking).

 

Blue Hydrogen & Petrochemicals: Not the Right Answers

 

One project that will continue Pennsylvania’s dependence on shale gas is the building of a taxpayer-burdensome blue hydrogen hub in the Ohio River Valley of Pennsylvania. Such a hub would increase demand for fracked gas, multiplying the number of wells drilled and pipelines laid while creating even bigger public health risks. Further, the use of carbon capture and storage, which is needed for hydrogen production to be called “blue,” is an unproven, expensive technology that carries with it a high risk of leaks and resulting health impacts.

 

Plans to extend shale gas development often rely on the misconception that this industry creates a significant number of permanent, local jobs. In fact, in areas where most methane gas is extracted, job and income growth have lagged the national average, and population loss has worsened. Pouring immense government subsidies into fossil fuel-driven solutions—as Pennsylvania did with the economically underwhelming and highly polluting Shell petrochemical plant in Monaca, Pennsylvania—just doesn’t make sense for taxpayers or communities.

 

Public Health Considerations Are Paramount

 

We would expect any comprehensive economic plan, especially in a state like Pennsylvania, which has a long history of extractive industries, to consider the enormous health costs associated with fossil fuels. As dozens of studies have shown, families who live near shale gas wells and related infrastructure already suffer elevated risks for many health issues, including higher rates of asthma and heart problems, poorer birth outcomes, and cancers. Also unaddressed in the plan are the higher risks of accidents, such as pipeline and train explosions, that impact the health and wallets of residents within the state and across state lines.

All these health implications challenge the quality of life for Pennsylvania residents and carry a financial cost as well. Greater numbers of hospital visits, additional medications, lost workdays, school absences, and shorter lifespans come at a steep price for families on the frontlines of oil and gas production and utilization.


Fossil Fuels Threaten Everyone’s Health

 

Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry contributes as much as a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions released worldwide, speeding up climate change and impacting public health. The crippling storms, droughts, heatwaves, and illnesses from insect-borne diseases impact residents across the globe.

 

In a plan that then-candidate Shapiro released while campaigning for the governorship, he pledged to “expand clean energy by signing legislation to generate 30% of Pennsylvania’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 and set a goal for the Commonwealth to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.” This campaign promise is mentioned nowhere in the 10-Year Strategic Plan for Economic Development, and renewable energies are only mentioned in passing.

 

While attorney general, Shapiro also pledged to implement the recommendations made by a 2020 Grand Jury report to lessen the health threats of shale gas development. As our own analysis shows, Gov. Shapiro has, so far, fallen short on these promises.

 

A Clean and Sustainable Path Forward

 

Other states have made great progress in embracing the renewable energy economy by leveraging federal dollars to boost job creation and put their communities on a path to greater economic prosperity. Pennsylvania is on the verge of being left behind, but we don’t have to be. With its strong roots in manufacturing and deep labor pools, our state has what it takes to become a renewable energy leader, creating sustainable jobs, reducing health impacts and health care costs, and saving lives.

 

We urge Gov. Shapiro to make good on his campaign promise to break new ground on a truly clean, long-term, and sustainable economy. A commitment to working together with community groups and economic and health advocates would be a welcome first step to protecting the health of all Pennsylvanians.


 

Have you or someone you know been impacted by oil and gas development, and would you like to share your story? Contact us at info@environmentalhealthproject.org. 

The Environmental Health Project (EHP) is a nonprofit public health organization that defends public health in the face of oil and gas development. We provide frontline communities with timely monitoring, interpretation, and guidance. We engage diverse stakeholders: health professionals, researchers, community organizers, public servants, and others. We do so because knowledge protects health.

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