Environmental policy is an area where state legislators have considerable sway. With an EPA controlled by President Donald Trump that is set on rolling back regulations, a lot of environmental protections in Pennsylvania currently fall to elected officials in Harrisburg.
With that in mind, statewide environmental group Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania (CVPA) has endorsed three Democratic candidates for state House seats in Allegheny County. Not only do legislators from the area vote on important environmental bills in Harrisburg, the Pittsburgh area is on the front line of air pollution and faces significant environmental impacts from the fracking industry, which has a large footprint in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
CVPA has highlighted three endorsed candidates in competitive primary races this cycle: Jessica Benham, Emily Kinkead, and Lissa Geiger Shulman.
Benham is from the South Side and is running for Pennsylvania state House District 36, which encompasses most of Pittsburgh’s southern neighborhoods. Benham has given support to fracking workers and garnered an endorsement from Operating Engineers Local 66, which includes workers in the natural gas industry.
Benham’s Democratic opponent is Heather Kass, who in the past supported President Donald Trump, and CVPA noted in a press release that Kass “previously aligned herself with officials who ignore or outright deny the impacts of climate change.”
CVPA also factored in Benham’s progressive policy proposals. On Benham’s campaign website, she is calling for more state investments in storm-water management and the reduction of fossil fuel pollution.
“Ms. Benham has a clear grasp of the environmental issues facing her district and a passionate belief in economic sustainability and environmental justice for everyone,” said Katie Blume, the political director for CVPA.
Kinkead is from the North Side and is running in District 20, which covers the North Side, Bellevue, the Strip District, and parts of Lawrenceville and Ross. She is running against incumbent state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl (D-Ross).
CVPA indicated its endorsement for Kinkead was in part due to her opposition to House Bill 1100, which would potentially provide $1 billion in tax breaks to petrochemical companies that produce a capital investment of $450 million or more, and at least 800 jobs. Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) recently vetoed the bill, but Ravenstahl voted for its passage in the state House.
“Ms. Kinkead has voiced strong opposition to HB1100, a multimillion-dollar corporate giveaway that puts our families at greater risk of cancer and other dangerous health issues,” Blume said.
Lastly, Geiger Shulman was endorsed by CVPA. She is from Hampton and is running in the District 30, which stretches from Fox Chapel, through Shaler and north to Richland. The district is currently held by state Rep Lori Mizgorski (R-Shaler) and Geiger Shulman has a Democratic opponent for the Primary Election in the form of Marco Attisano, of O’Hara.
District 30 is considered the most flippable district for Democrats in Allegheny County.
CPVA endorsed Geiger Shulman because of her stance against the expansion of the petrochemical industry in the region. Currently, a cracker plant is under construction in Beaver County and it is permitted to emit 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent of adding more than 480,000 cars to the region. The cracker plant will be fueled by fracked natural gas to make plastic pellets, and there have been rumors that more cracker plants could come to the Ohio River Valley.
“Ms. Shulman wants to halt tax breaks for polluting corporations, working together with trade unions to realize a just transition away from fossil fuels, and investing in large-scale green infrastructure improvements,” said Blume.
In the end, the CVPA is hopeful these candidates will join the ranks of “environmental champions like Senator Jay Costa, Representative Summer Lee and Representative Sara Innamorato.” Costa, Lee, and Innamorato were also endorsed by CVPA this year. District 36 candidate Nick Pisciottano also picked up an endorsement in his race to fill the Mon Valley district.
The Pennsylvania primary election is scheduled for June 2.