HARRISBURG – May 25, 2022 – Today, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats wrote the following letter to Republican leaders in response to rampant gun violence and mass shootings that have become too common in the United States. Just this year, 215 mass shootings have taken place in the country, with the devastating shooting that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, being the 215th.
In the letter, the caucus calls on the Republican majority to act on “reasonable and responsible legislation and appropriations” that does not infringe on Second Amendment rights but will help keep guns away from bad actors and support gun violence prevention. Senate Democrats list seven bills that have been introduced to mitigate gun violence but have sat in committee with no discussion or votes. They also highlight how American Rescue Plan dollars and Pennsylvania’s current budget surplus can be used to help communities prevent horrific violence.
Harrisburg, PA − May 25, 2021 – Today, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus led in this effort by State Senator Steve Santarsiero held a virtual press conference to discuss a package of bills aimed at increasing transparency, oversight and the overall safe management of gas drilling operations in the fracking industry.
The package of legislation addresses recommendations made in Pennsylvania’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on the unconventional oil and gas industry. The report was a result of a two-year investigation that included personal testimony from 70 households across the Commonwealth and dozens of current and former state employees. Findings detailed disturbing health impacts of Pennsylvania fracking operations on children, homeowners and livestock that live within proximity of drilling sites. Multiple families close to wells or other industrial sites described unexplained rashes, sudden nosebleeds, and respiratory issues.
“Last year, the Grand Jurors called on Pennsylvania to make concrete changes to reduce the health and safety risks on a fracking industry left unchecked by regulators impacting families across Pennsylvania. It is common sense to ensure fracking isn’t happening next to a school or too close to someone’s home. It is common sense for companies to be transparent about the chemicals they are using near the water supplies of homes,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “I want to thank Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta for their work on these reforms—my office is committed to making sure Pennsylvanians are protected against powerful interests.”
The package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats aim to usher in reforms that were specifically recommended by the Grand Jury report. The eight recommendations included:
- Expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the required 500 feet to 2,500 feet;
- Requiring fracking companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing before they are used on-site;
- Requiring the regulation of gathering lines, used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles;
- Adding up all sources of air pollution in a given area to accurately assess air quality;
- Requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites;
- Conducting a comprehensive health response to the effects of living near unconventional drilling sites;
- Limiting the ability of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees to be employed in the private sector immediately after leaving the Department;
- Allowing the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies.
Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta will sponsor and co-sponsor bills that directly respond to the recommendations and the urgent need for action.
“Under this package of bills, citizens and others could report potential environmental crimes directly to the Attorney General’s office for investigation without having to go through other agencies first,” said Sen. Santarsiero, adding “This would speed up the process for investigations and convictions for environmental crimes and make it clear to potential polluters that damaging our land and water will be met with real consequences. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural resources. As a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, I have firsthand experience in how cumbersome, time consuming, and counter-productive the current process can be. It is time we ensure accurate resources exist to protect the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and pure water.”
“SB653 is a worker and public safety issue,” Senator Sabatina said. “When first responders show up to an accident scene, they need to quickly identify the substance in a spill. We have to keep truck drivers, first responders and drivers in Pennsylvania safe.”
“This package of bills should’ve been enacted before a single permit was approved by the DEP,” said Senator Muth. “For over ten years, Pennsylvanians have been left in the dark about the cumulative health impacts of the extraction industry and often have no idea what kind of harmful chemicals are being used right in their backyard or leaching into their water supplies. The recommendations included in report one of the 43rd Statewide Investigative Grand Jury Report are commonsense, proactive measures that will increase transparency about the hydraulic fracturing process. It’s time for state government to protect the people and our natural resources instead of protecting corporate polluters who only care about profits, even if it means harming people and the planet.”
According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas, following Texas. The industry has boomed in Pennsylvania with very little legal or regulatory accountability. Proposed legislation will address negligence, a lack of transparency and gaps in oversight that have allowed drillers to operate largely on their own accord, with profit often prioritized over children, families and animals that suffer because of exposure to dangerous chemicals, contaminated water and air pollution.
“In my district, where PFAS contamination levels have been among the highest in the nation, water quality is not something we take for granted,” said Senator Collett. “This urgent legislation will allow the Attorney General to take action against polluters and allow us to stop using state dollars – your dollars – to remediate hazards like these across the Commonwealth.”
“The health effects from industry activity are “magnified by proximity”, a fact that is highlighted in Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Grand Jury report,” said Senator Santarsiero. “We must protect our communities and keep families safe in their homes by increasing the distance unconventional gas drilling operations must be from buildings and water supplies.”
“The Attorney General’s report showed that natural gas drilling operations can have serious impacts on our health, safety, and well-being and those impacts are amplified by proximity. Drilling operations don’t belong in the middle of our neighborhoods or near schools, hospitals, or our water resources,” Senator Comitta said. “It’s time to enact safer setbacks to better protect Pennsylvania families, children, and communities from the potential for the significant, negative health impacts associated with fracking.”
BUCKS COUNTY – April 21, 2021 – State Senators Steve Santarsiero (D-10), Art Haywood (D-4) and Carolyn Comitta (D-19) announced today during a virtual press conference that they will be introducing SB 300, a bill to expand the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards (AEPS) Tier I requirement from 8% to 30% by 2030. Highlighting the benefits of job creation and curbing the devastating effects of climate change, the senators shared a vision for a sustainable energy future in Pennsylvania.
“Global climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing our generation. It has already had significant impacts on the environment, from rising sea levels to more extreme weather events, costing businesses, governments and taxpayers billions of dollars,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “It is long overdue that we implement stronger renewable energy goals to create good jobs, cut pollution and ensure a sustainable and prosperous Pennsylvania for future generations. With the AEPS percentage requirements set to plateau in 2021, and dire consequences for inaction to reverse the effects of climate change, it is time we tap into the enormous benefits from increasing our renewable energy goals and re-establish Pennsylvania as a clean energy leader.”
“Renewable energy creates jobs, saves farmers, and can help us to save the planet. We believe strongly that this proposal could be one of the largest economic development and job stimulus bills in decades,” added Sen. Haywood.
A forward-thinking policy when enacted in 2004, the AEPS percentage requirements are set to plateau in 2021, setting the stage for modernizing the standards. In the years since the legislation was enacted, neighboring states have set more aggressive standards that has left Pennsylvania trailing behind. SB 300 seeks to bring Pennsylvania back into the forefront as a clean energy leader by:
- Expands the AEPS Tier I requirement from 8% to 30% by 2030, including 7.5% for in-state grid-scale solar and 2.5% for in-state distributed generation solar;
- Directs the PUC to study the benefits of a renewable energy storage program;
- Provides for several protections that control costs for electricity customers, including long-term contracting, fixed ACP payments, and a 15-year lifetime limit for generating eligible SRECs for solar projects.
Sen. Comitta, Democratic Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee added, “The climate crisis is not stopping. Neither can we. Pennsylvania must recommit itself to realistic and achievable renewable energy requirements. Thirty percent by 2030 is just that – a job-creating, emissions-reducing, cost-saving, economy-building, forward-thinking goal. As we look ahead to the 51st Anniversary of Earth Day, let’s work to restore our planet through competitive renewable energy standards that support the health of our economy, the health of our environment, and the health of all people.”
The trio of lawmakers were joined by Democratic colleagues in support, many calling attention to the economic benefits of renewable energy, specifically job creation for generations to come.
Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-41) said, “Forward-thinking policies like updated AEPS standards can curb the disastrous impacts of climate change while also fostering a stronger clean energy economy in the Commonwealth. This is a job-creating, planet-sustaining piece of legislation I am proud to support.”
“Modernizing Pennsylvania’s emissions standards and prioritizing renewable energy are not only key to securing a sustainable future for our kids, they are key to rebuilding our economy, creating new jobs, and putting Pennsylvanians in many trades and professions back to work,” said Senator Maria Collett (D-12). “It’s time for our Commonwealth to fulfill its potential as a clean energy leader and bring new jobs and new businesses to the state when we need them most.”
Sen. Nikil Saval (D-1) said, “The importance of this expansion cannot be understated. AEPS is one of the few Pennsylvania programs pushing renewable energy forward, and this push will mean that we are lowering emissions, while simultaneously preparing our economy, our built infrastructure, and our workforce for the future. The people of Pennsylvania deserve this investment.”
Several colleagues also voiced support for the local impact clean energy would have on their districts, particularly for farmers and those in low income neighborhoods.
“Incorporating more solar and wind energy into our everyday lives is going to be one of the best ways to secure our future, and that includes the agriculture sector,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11). “For example, farmers in my district are already learning about and using solar energy as a way to cut energy costs and make additional income on the farm. We all must make a personal commitment to preserving our natural resources, not just on Earth Day but every day.”
Sen. Anthony Williams (D-8) echoed the local impact modernizing AEPS would have on his district, saying “Clean energy production is vital to environmental justice, improving air and water quality especially in low-income neighborhoods throughout the Commonwealth. This is an issue that ripples across Pennsylvania, in rural, suburban and urban communities that have been devastated by toxic pollution.”
With Earth Day right around the corner, the message was clear—if we want to curb the devastating effects of climate change and create a more sustainable future, we must act quickly.
“We have heard for years that we must act now to avoid the most dire impacts of climate change and for years the political courage has been absent to accomplish what needed to be done in order to save our planet,” said Senator Katie Muth (D-44). “Now we have reached a point where we are realizing the impacts of our inaction – extreme weather events, growing climate based global instability, and increased disease and viruses. We are now in a moment where discussion needs to turn into action and implement solutions to stop further harm from occurring. Our constituents and scientific experts know that this matter is real and we are far behind schedule.”
“I’m glad to see our caucus invested in pushing Pennsylvania towards a sustainable future,” said Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-17). “It is a necessary step in the right direction, which will create countless job opportunities in green energy. This is why I support moving to 100% renewable energy by 2050. We cannot be held back by pessimism and fear, we don’t have time.”
BUCKS COUNTY – March 22, 2021 – State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) today applauded Governor Wolf for the Commonwealth’s commitment to solar energy and called on the General Assembly to take up legislation to modernize the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act (AEPS).
“The Governor’s commitment to have 50% of state government powered by solar energy is exactly the type of forward progress we need in the fight against climate change,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “I have long supported setting more aggressive, long-term targets to realize the economic and environmental potential of solar and wind energy in the Commonwealth. We must act now if we are going to prevent the worst of the effects of climate change.”
Sen. Santarsiero introduced legislation in the 2018-2020 session to modernize the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act to expand Tier I requirement from 8% to 30% by 2030. Sen. Santarsiero plans to reintroduce the legislation this session, with Senators Carolyn Comitta (D-19) and Art Haywood (D-4).
“It is long overdue that we implement stronger renewable energy goals to create good jobs, cut pollution and ensure a sustainable and prosperous Pennsylvania for future generations,” continued Sen. Santarsiero. “It is time we tap into the enormous benefits from increasing our renewable energy goals and re-establish Pennsylvania as a clean energy leader.”
Chester, PA – March 19, 2021 – Yesterday, a bipartisan group of Senators representing Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties sent a letter to Governor Wolf, Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam, and the members of the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, supporting requests by county officials that the state distribute coronavirus vaccine doses to county-run clinics rather than sending them to a single mass vaccination site for the entire region.
Senators Kane (D, Delaware/Chester), Comitta (D, Chester), Cappelletti (D, Delaware/Montgomery), Collett (D, Bucks/Montgomery), Kearney (D, Delaware/Chester), Muth (D, Berks/Chester/Montgomery), Santarsiero (D, Bucks), Tomlinson (R, Bucks), and Williams (D, Delaware/Philadelphia) signed onto the letter in support of county officials. In their letter, the Senators highlighted both the continued concerns with distribution equity posed by establishing a single site for 2.5 million resident and the superfluousness of creating a new mass site on top of existing county infrastructure.
“We’ve been facing issues with equitable vaccine distribution here in Southeast PA for weeks. Our vaccine allotment has been severely limited, and residents are already being forced to travel for their appointments, meaning access for working people, folks without reliable transportation, and caretakers of children is often all but non-existent,” said Senator Kane. “Creating a single mass vaccination site for the entire southeast, a single mass vaccination site for 2.5 million people, will only serve to exacerbate these disparities. I’m standing in support of our county health officials and asking for the additional vaccine doses to be distributed between the four counties for allocation through their existing infrastructure. I’m tired of vulnerable communities being sent to the back of the line when times are hardest, and I won’t stop fighting for my constituents.”
The proposed single mass vaccination clinic is only the latest in a serious of hurdles residents of the collar counties have been facing in attempting to schedule vaccine appointments. Three weeks ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the four collar counties had received many fewer vaccine doses by population than other counties. Since then, legislators have faced continued hurdles in advocating for increased doses, including responses by the Department of Health that it is irrelevant where constituents are receiving their vaccines so long as they are getting vaccinated.
However, residents of the collar counties continue to face difficulties in scheduling appointments and finding accurate information. “My constituents are beyond frustrated at the confusion and lack of coordination on how to obtain a vaccine,” said Senator Muth. “I cannot understand the purpose of the $11.6 million dollar contract with a consulting firm for vaccine distribution and yet, here we are, many questions unanswered, incomplete data, and inconsistent information day-to-day. Only providing one vaccination site for the entire Southeast region will simply disproportionately harm seniors who do not drive, single parents struggling to balance child care while working multiple frontline jobs, and so many who are just unable to travel an hour or more to a single vaccination site. We can and must do better. I urge the administration to listen to our local elected county leaders on this issue and ensure the true equitable distribution by showing all data and numbers.”
The letter follows a joint statement issued Wednesday, in which county officials from the four collar counties asked the Department of Health to reconsider their plans for a single mass vaccination clinic and to instead allocate the doses among the four counties.
Senator Kearney highlighted the added hurdle in creating a mass vaccination clinic when counties are already prepared to distribute additional doses. “We don’t need to reinvent the wheel by creating a single mass vaccination site that will somehow serve 2.5 million residents across Southeastern Pennsylvania. Our counties have the infrastructure in place to get shots in arms – all they need is the supply. If our counties get the doses, our counties can get it done,” said Senator Kearney.
A full copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here.
SEPA Delegation Letter March 18 2021
BUCKS COUNTY − March 12, 2021 − State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) was joined by Democratic colleagues today in New Hope to announce their action to protect clean drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians from the environmental hazards of fracking. Their action is in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican senators against the Delaware River Basin Commission to allow natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin in Pennsylvania.
Arguing for the constitutional right of millions of Pennsylvanians to clean water, the motion to intervene was filed earlier in the day in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Yaw v. The Delaware River Basin Commission. Republican caucus members had filed suit against the DRBC in January 2021, and in late February the Delaware River Keeper Network successfully intervened in the case.
“Clean water and air is a constitutional right for all Pennsylvanians, and it’s the duty of the General Assembly to ensure those rights are not infringed upon,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “The people of Bucks County – and the rest of the Delaware River Basin – have a constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water. We are not going to allow the oil and gas industry to contaminate that water. Working within its authority, the DRBC has been a steadfast champion for protecting the assets of the Delaware River Basin since its inception. Thanks to the DRBC and the work of environmental advocates, an incredible amount of progress has been made over the years to clean our waterways and create a reliable source of drinking water for millions of people. We have come too far to cede that progress to the damaging effects of fracking on our environment and land.”
“The DRBC was created 60 years ago to manage the river system and protect our water resources, including protecting the watershed from the harmful impacts of fracking,” said Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-19), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “The DRBC exercised its authority, with all four basin states voting to ban fracking. Individual Pennsylvania legislators don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to the compact’s decisions. We support the DRBC in its decision to ban fracking – one that upholds Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment and protects our right to clean water.”
More than a decade ago, DRBC unanimously voted in favor of a moratorium on fracking pending the adoption of new regulations. Since then, the Commission has received almost 80,000 public comments which have been considered in updated draft rules.
“There is mounting evidence from throughout our Commonwealth that fracking cannot be conducted safely and, in many cases, permanently and completely contaminates our shared drinking water resources,” said Sen. Katie Muth. “I applaud the Delaware River Basin Commission for preventing this dangerous and harmful industrial activity from rendering the drinking water for 8.3 million Pennsylvanians unsafe and unusable. Moreover, I am appalled that my Senate colleagues from the Majority Party are willing to sacrifice the health of their constituents in the name of industry profit. Without water, our homes are rendered valueless, our public health severely deteriorates due to toxic and radioactive fracking waste, and our environment is polluted for generations to come. I stand in defense of the public health and environmental quality for all Pennsylvanians and strongly oppose any effort to harm our drinking water resources in the name of corporate greed.”
“Clean drinking water is a constitutional right in Pennsylvania, and an imperative to our health and survival as a species,” said Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-17). “The Delaware River Basin delivers drinking water to 13.3 million people. We joined the DCRB to maintain the safety of that water. Legislators who are threatening that mission should be ashamed of their thinly veiled attempt at a power grab. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanian and the citizens of New York, New Jersey and Delaware have an inviolable right to keeping this water, their drinking water, clean.”
Five million Pennsylvanians across 17 counties reside in the Basin, which includes Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties. The Delaware River Basin spans 6,471 square miles in the Commonwealth, across 522 municipalities.
“I chose to sign on as an intervenor in this case because I know my constituents and all Pennsylvanians take seriously their constitutional right to clean air and water,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11). “It is my solemn and sworn duty to protect that right. This may be our last stand in attempting to protect the waters of the Delaware River Basin from the environmental hazards created by fracking. These waters are a drinking, agricultural and industrial water resource for more than 13 million Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey residents.”
Sen. Maria Collett (D-12) added, “My constituents and I know firsthand what it’s like to have to fight for “pure water” as guaranteed by the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the terror felt when that bond has been broken. The argument made by my Republican colleagues that, as trustees of Pennsylvania’s national resources under this Amendment, they must protect the pecuniary value of such resources over the health and survival of the people and ecosystems dependent on them is not just unconstitutional, it’s inhuman.”
Sen. Vince Hughes (D-7) said, “Protecting the quality of ground and surface water and the future of the Delaware River Basin has broad support from the public in Pennsylvania and the other three states impacted by the Delaware River Basin Commission. Simply put, the commission is acting to protect those interests and the right to pure water. We join in this suit to protect those rights and to prevent adverse impacts from affecting our region.”
In a February 2021 DRBC meeting the 4 member states unanimously voted to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin. During the special meeting, the United States abstained from the vote, but indicated support for the result.
“My colleagues and I are intervening to fight for the 13 million people who get their water from the Delaware River Basin and protect the Constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and clean water,” said Sen. John Kane (D-9). “The DRBC voted unanimously to ban fracking after hearing tens of thousands of comments over several years — that’s what our communities want, and that’s how to keep Pennsylvanians safe. I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues in intervening in support of the DRBC.”
Sen. Sharif Street (D-3) said, “The Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision is not only within their authority as custodians of the waters of the Delaware River Basin but is also constitutionally sound. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to protect our environment and the people of Pennsylvania. ”
“I’m proud to stand side by side with my colleagues in the Senate’s Democratic Caucus in support of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision to permanently ban fracking. This hard-fought, hard-won decision was years in the making. It is a victory for advocates, organizers, the millions of people who live within the river basin, and for the river itself. My entire district is not only within the basin, but runs along the Delaware River. I’m grateful to DRBC for protecting the lives and livelihoods of my constituents, and I’m grateful to my fellow Democratic Senators for setting their stakes in the ground with mine.” Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia)
Environmental groups have long advocated for protecting the Delaware River Basin and for the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and water. They shared their overwhelming support for the Democratic Senators’ intervention in the lawsuit in written statements.
In a statement read during the press conference, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said, “We would like to thank Senator Santarsiero and his colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate for filing a motion to intervene in Yaw v. DRBC. Thousands of residents and countless elected officials and experts have spoken out in support of banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin.”
Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “The Delaware River is irreplaceably important to our entire region. To allow it to be sacrificed to the fracking industry, to be used to advance the climate crisis, and to be used to help advance an industry that is devastating the health, safety, lives, property values, quality of life and local economies of entire communities is indefensible. It is even worse that the republican legislative caucus, Senators Yaw and Baker would be seeking to misuse Pennsylvania’s constitutional environmental rights amendment and to deny Pennsylvania’s support for the Delaware River Basin Commission is an abuse of power and trust. I would like to thank Senator Steve Santarsiero and the legislators of the Democratic Caucus for seeking to join the ongoing lawsuit so they can rise up and defend our river, our environment and the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania.”
“PennEnvironment applauds the state senators who’ve come together today from across the Delaware River watershed to stand up and defend this great river,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur in a written statement. “Fracking shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, much less near an iconic natural waterway like the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans. Given that local Pennsylvanians voiced their overwhelming support for protecting the Delaware River from fracking during the public input processes, it’s unfortunate that the elected officials who are the plaintiffs in the ‘Yaw v. DRBC’ case are using the courts to undo the will of local residents.
The Democratic Caucus members who have signed onto the lawsuit are Senators Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks), Carolyn Comitta (D- Chester), Amanda Cappelletti (D- Montgomery, Delaware), Maria Collett (D- Montgomery, Bucks), Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Art Haywood (D- Montgomery, Philadelphia), Vince Hughes (D- Philadelphia), John Kane (D- Chester, Delaware), Tim Kearney (D- Delaware), Katie Muth (D- Berks, Chester, Montgomery), John Sabatina (D- Philadelphia), Nikil Saval (D- Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), Tina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) , and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia).