As we put faith in our elected leaders in Pennsylvania to steer a course for our citizens that is morally just, it becomes increasingly harder to keep the faith when our air and water, both so precious to life, are under threat in state budget negotiations.
Both Gov. Wolf and the state Senate supported a budget revenue package that included a series of bad environmental riders. Especially egregious is the proposed formation of an Air Quality Permit Advisory Committee, whose politically appointed members would be authorized to approve air quality permits related to oil and gas operations. This would include permits associated with emissions of methane, the chief component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that is contributing significantly to climate change.
The natural gas industry, especially since the onset of the Marcellus Shale boom, has proved to be an unworthy steward.
Since 2012, nearly a half-million tons of methane pollution were pumped into Pennsylvania’s air, along with a host of toxins such as benzene and other smog-forming pollutants, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. That rampant pollution comes with a host of unwanted consequences. More than 30,000 children in Pennsylvania will suffer asthma attacks every year, due in part to ozone-related pollutants from the oil and gas industry, the Clean Air Task Force reported in February. Nearly half of those children live in our largest metro areas, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The organization also reported that adults are not immune to this smog, with 67,000 days of restricted activity attributed to breathing pollution.
Further, the web of natural gas pipelines that are coming to our door in Southeastern Pennsylvania will only exacerbate our air quality dilemma as pipelines continue to leak.
It is a central tenet of our teachings that we cannot honor God’s creation while simultaneously denigrating it and placing children in harm’s way. As people of faith and caretakers of our common home, we are obliged to act in a manner that is protective of people and helps to ensure a healthy and livable planet.
These times call for strong and sure leadership, not morally compromised positions with dangerous ramifications. This dereliction of duty to those whom we are called to serve and protect is unconscionable. The fact that these riders, which would undermine our air and water quality, are still under consideration by our elected officials is unacceptable to our families and communities.
We believe that a healthy environment and a strong economy can exist at the same time. Truly, we can afford nothing less. That is why the governor and the members of the Pennsylvania House and Senate need to come together to pass a budget that is free of any provisions that would harm the air we breathe and the water we drink.
Mary Elizabeth Clark is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Chestnut Hill. firstname.lastname@example.org