Big Wins For the Environment and Pennsylvanians in 2023

These victories should compel us to rededicate ourselves to fighting for our environment – and our democracy – in 2024.
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Hard fought victories are always among the sweetest, and 2023 delivered a number of them for environmental advocates. From the advancement of legislation and preserving the transformative potential of Pennsylvania’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) to decisive wins for environmental champions up and down the ballot and in all corners of the Commonwealth, 2023 has been a very good year.

While the inauguration of Josh Shapiro as governor brought with it the reassurance of an environmental champion as the Commonwealth’s chief executive, there was much to be wary about at the beginning of 2023. Corporations and fossil fuel companies were energized. They pulled out all the stops in an effort to put their profit margins before all else, including the health, safety, and welfare of Pennsylvanians.

Once Joanna McClinton assumed the office of Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in March, becoming the first Black woman to serve as the presiding officer of a chamber of the General Assembly, commonsense environmental legislation long since bottled up by House Republicans finally began to receive the committee and floor consideration it deserves.

Legislation authored by Rep. Liz Fiedler (D-Philadelphia) is a great example of a bill that would have been killed in committee by the GOP. Her “Solar for Schools” legislation, House Bill 1032, would establish a program to incentivize the purchase and installation of solar energy equipment in schools and help fund associated costs such as permit fees, energy storage and utility interconnection.  

With the promise of lower energy costs for schools and taxpayers, curbing carbon emissions and creating family-sustaining union jobs, “Solar for Schools” is a win-win-win for Pennsylvania students, taxpayers and workers. Demonstrating the bi-partisan support for measures like these, the bill received the votes of almost three dozen Republican lawmakers in addition to those of all House Democrats.

READ: Solar for Schools: A Win for Kids, Taxpayers and Pennsylvania  

Just a couple of weeks ago, in the wake of a deeply flawed Commonwealth Court ruling that prevented Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI, the Shapiro Administration announced its decision to appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court. 

For too long, our policymaking processes have favored the interests of entrenched corporate polluters at the expense of the health and welfare of Pennsylvania’s families. RGGI is a vital tool for fighting carbon pollution and fostering the transition to a 21st century economy. In filing an appeal, the governor has ensured the question of the Commonwealth’s participation in RGGI will be determined – likely sometime next year – by our state’s highest court. 

The PA Constitution assures Pennsylvanians’ rights to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” Our participation in RGGI will help fulfill that solemn pledge.

One month ago, environmental advocates and Pennsylvania voters scored the biggest win of 2023. More accurately, the biggest wins, as environmentally-minded, pro-democracy candidates surged to victory. At the top of this year’s ticket, the election of Justice-elect Daniel McCaffery to the PA Supreme Court is of paramount importance. Voters saw through the cynical distortions and smears of the supporters of the justice-elect’s opponent to drive him to victory by more than 200,000 votes. 

READ: Keeping Bucks County Green: Shutting Down Rockhill Quarry

Here in Bucks County, the re-election of the bipartisan trio of county commissioners, Robert J. Harvie, Diane M. Ellis-Marseglia and Gene DiGirolamo, is another important win for the environment. Commissioners Harvie, Ellis-Marseglia and DiGirolamo understand that protecting the environment and growing the economy are not competing priorities but rather complementary ones, and we look forward to working with them in the days to come.

The wins of 2023 should compel us to rededicate ourselves to fighting for our environment – and our democracy – in 2024. Next year is shaping up to be one like no other. Conservation Voters of PA and its allies are ready for what could be an existential fight for our world and our nation.

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Molly Parzen

Molly Parzen is Executive Director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, a statewide environmental advocacy group.