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Just in time for Earth Day, a group of Democratic legislators, primarily those we elected from the Delaware Valley, have introduced a package of bills under the title of “Zero Waste PA”. This package would curtail the sale of food in plastic or polystyrene containers; limit the sale of products in non-recyclable plastic; allow dispensing plastic straws only upon request; require water filling stations in all new State buildings and those undergoing renovations to prevent plastic bottles from being discarded; increase fines for illegal dumping, while boosting fees for dumping out of state trash in landfills; mandate a 2-cent fee for plastic bags at supermarkets; exact a 20 cent fee for cigarette packages; improve recycling and composting; pay 5 cents to anyone returning empty bottles that contained potable liquids; and implement best practices for electronic-waste recycling.

All worthy legislation. All, however, having next to zero chance of passing. Why? Because, at the beginning of the year, PA House Speaker Mike Turzai selected Daryl Metcalfe to be the new chair of the House Environmental and Energy Committee, in the hope that Metcalfe could apply his special skills in preventing progressive legislation from leaving committee the way he stymied redistricting legislation supported by groups such as Fair Districts PA, when he was the chair of the State Government Committee. John Baer quoted Metcalfe in his interview with the representative as saying that “nobody needs be concerned if they’re not ‘leftist, tree hugger types.’” On being given that committee assignment, Metcalfe declared “I will work to advance legislation that streamlines and downsizes Pennsylvania’s job-killing, regulatory environment…”

What is most interesting about this last statement is that, in the last legislative session, Metcalfe co-sponsored legislation that would have actually increased the amount of red tape in sate government, just to prevent legislative oversight of companies that pollute. House Bill 1960 would have created a new position for a Regulatory Compliance Officer in each state agency. This officer would have had the authority to block an agency from imposing fines and penalties for violations, and to rewrite the policies under which fines and penalties are imposed. The language of the bill was vague enough to forestall or even dismiss penalties when a violator asked for clarification on the violation, or when a violator disclosed the violation to the authorities. This bill would thus free polluters from punishment if they claimed confusion over their misconduct, or if they simply made the authorities aware of the problem.

Perhaps the most defining indication of Metcalfe’s environmental understanding is a video that he has on facebook where he muses upon a world without vegetables if we were to sequester man-made carbon dioxide, the implication being that vegetables are somehow a by-product of the industrial revolution, which is as bizarre as former State Senator Scott Wagner’s belief that global warming is caused by population increases and the earth getting closer to the sun.

What the viewer might miss in this video is that these remarks are accompanied by a panegyric to a presentation made by Kevin Sunday, the Director of Government Affairs for the PA Chamber of Business and Industry. Mr. Sunday’s recent presentations cherry pick facts to confirm his thesis that show that market based approaches to environmental problems are superior to solutions legislated by governments. For example, he compares Pennsylvania’s electricity deregulation with a consortium of eight northern states, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, that relies primarily upon cap-and-trade over a seven year period, by comparing the carbon dioxide reduction (in metric tons) in each state from 2008 from 2015. From this comparison Mr. Sunday concludes that Pennsylvania fared the best with a reduction of 37 mmt (million metric tons). But 4 out of the eight states had less than 37 mmt to start with in 2008, and Pennsylvania’s 270 mmt of CO2 in 2008 was far more than the second highest state – New York (at 190 mmt), thereby giving Pennsylvania much more wiggle room to reduce CO2 emissions. Mr. Sunday fails to realize that mathematics, rather than the free market, is responsible for the conclusions that he draws from his analysis. And only someone who believes that vegetables are a post-industrial phenomenon could see the merit in Mr. Sunday’s argument.

Looking at the entire nation, a recent study preformed by WalletHub found Pennsylvania’s greenhouse gas emissions ranked 32nd out of the 50 states, and 25th in its overall environmental rating. We can do so much better. That is why the passage of “Zero Waste PA” would be such an important step toward improving our environment. Happy Earth Day.

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