Tuesday, 10 Dec 2002

HARRISBURG, Penn.

Yesterday’s PennFuture telephone staff meeting went a lot longer than I expected, due to one of the issues I mentioned yesterday — the fact that Pennsylvania will have a new governor on January 21.

The environmental community here has high hopes for our state’s new leader, Ed Rendell (D). He sought and received the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups, and he consulted with many in the community during his campaign. And while he didn’t always agree with us 100 percent on every issue, his efforts to bring us to the table were a breath of fresh air for many.

The PennFuture staff is particularly hopeful, since we are the only group in the state that combines three important tools to protect the environment — litigation, legislation, and communication. For us, a change in state government could make a big difference.

For the past three years, we have been playing defense. Our seven lawyers have spent most of their time representing the environmental community, sporting and fishing groups, mining communities, and community organizations in their efforts to enforce the law or make agencies do their jobs to prevent more damage to the environment. And our communications staff has constantly had to counter the “spin” by the state government, which insists that all’s well with nature, even as it reveals bad permitting decisions — which are nearly always announced on late Friday afternoons!

So an administration more amenable to environmental protection would be a great improvement to our staff and our workload, not to mention to the well-being of Pennsylvanians. And we might actually be able to make some positive change.

But promises are one thing. Now comes the hard part. And we all know that personnel is policy, so who gets appointed to which positions will go a long way toward determining how environmental policy is set in the state.

So far, though, we are pleased with the appointment of the co-chairs for the transition team for the environment, especially the choice of Caren Glotfelty, program director for environmental grantmaking for the Heinz Endowments. Caren’s record of commitment to the environment and her understanding of how government works will serve our state well.

Green Mountain Windfarm in Garrett, Penn.

Photo: Terri Taylor.

And, much to my surprise, I was named a co-chair of the energy transition team — a tribute to the great work PennFuture does on renewable energy, as well as recognition of my former position as a member of the Public Utility Commission. Pennsylvania has an opportunity for leadership in building and using clean renewable energy. That would help economic development, public health, and the environment. After all, changing what kind of energy we use is the single most important thing anyone can do to help the environment. The average Pennsylvania family that switches from traditional electricity to 100 percent green energy does as much good for the environment as planting 950 trees. Thanks to tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who are buying green energy, our state is already the regional leader in wind power. (Click here to learn how you can join this revolution.)

As Bertrand Russell warned us, “Change is one thing, progress is another.” But there are some signs of hope — even in our previously difficult legislature — which I’ll get into tomorrow.