Wednesday, 11 Dec 2002

HARRISBURG, Penn.

Yesterday, at the meeting of the Pennsylvania League of Conservation Voters board of directors, we hired a new executive director, Cathy Hammond, and I’m very excited about working with her. She previously worked for a state senator, and I think she’ll really be a great addition to the environmental forces. Of course, I’m not nearly as excited as Phil Coleman, who has been working for months as the interim executive director. I’m sure that wasn’t how he envisioned his retirement! But now he’s back to southwestern Pennsylvania, where he is a mainstay of the Sierra Club.

LCV’s work is critical, because we are only just beginning to make progress in the state legislature. We will need more pro-environment elected officials, responsive to a growing coalition of supporters, if we want to move Pennsylvania ahead on these issues. And the growing environmental coalition was really the untold story of this legislative session.

After the November election, the Pennsylvania legislature came back for a lame duck session. Historically, these lame duck sessions are where a lot of mischief takes place, with bad bills amended onto others in middle-of-the-night sessions. So we knew that we would have to be eternally (or at least, round-the-clock until the end of the session) vigilant to protect our environment.

Fortunately, we had lots of help. We e-published a daily report, “The Lame Duck Follies,” which gave supporters around the state a birds-eye view of the ups and downs of legislative action and behavior, and meant that they could contact legislators as events unfolded. And we worked with a coalition of legislators and activists to successfully fend off three out of four anti-environmental bills.

One of our toughest battles was the fight against Senate Bill 1413, which would have taken away what little authority local governments have to regulate factory farms and the spreading of sewage sludge. It’s abundantly clear that we could not have stopped the bill without a huge effort from strong, community-based grassroots organizations across the state.

By far the bravest person we worked with is Larry Breech of the Pennsylvania Farmers Union. Larry laid his personal reputation on the line, took blistering criticism in stride, and held firm in his support of family farmers. He conducted a monumental education effort with his own members and squared off against corporate agribusiness to help us fight SB 1413. Russell and Antoinette Pennock, who turned the tragedy of losing their son to sludge exposure into a campaign to make sure it doesn’t happen to another family, were also profiles in courage. And the victory would have been impossible without the grassroots work of Tom Linzey and the support of the AFL-CIO.

In the wee hours of Thanksgiving morning, we also fended off a bill that would have exempted the oil and gas industry from parts of the Clean Streams Law and one that would have made it nearly impossible for local governments to buy land for recreation. These victories and other efforts over the years were gained by working with some stalwart partners.

These partners include Jeff Schmidt of the Sierra Club, Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action, David Masur of PennEnvironment, Andrew McElwaine of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Susan Gobreski of the League of Conservation Voters, and the dynamic duo of Joanne Denworth and Janet Milkman at 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania. Our mining work is helped enormously by people who have worked for decades in the coalfields, including Wyona Coleman, Mimi Filippelli, and Bev Braverman (the Mountain Mamas) of the Tri-State Citizens Mining Network. Trout Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, and Ed Perry (formerly of U.S. Fish and Wildlife) have helped us with our mining and stream protection work. Trout Unlimited and PFSC, along with the Bald Eagle Ridge Protection Association and Audubon’s Pennsylvania Chapter, also aid our effort to save Bald Eagle Ridge from a superhighway. Melody Zullinger of PFSC along with Bill Shultz and Joe Neville of the Game Commission have also lent strong shoulders to our work.

We also count on advice and support from the elected state officials. Rep. Mike Veon, always a great source of help, reminds his caucus how important environmental issues are. Reps. Vitali, Levdansky, Surra, George, and Freeman often champion environmental causes on the House floor. And without the help of Reps. Bard, Rubley, Ross, Fairchild, McIlhinney, Yudichak, Steil, Fairchild, Frankel, Feese, Mundy, and Harper, no good environmental legislation would pass, while many more stinkers would head to the governor for his signature. In the Senate, we’re grateful for the presence of Sens. Schwartz and Kukovich, who often wage lonely battles for the environment there.

In the end, the only bill we weren’t able to stop was the Water Resources Bill, championed by the state’s lame duck Department of Environmental Protection. But as I write, DEP is coming under attack for questionable behavior on many sides. I’ll fill you in on that tomorrow.