Philadelphia representatives back state push for renewable energy

State rep. Christopher Rabb will introduce a state-level version of a Green New deal.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a 2012 public communication alumnus, stands outside his office at Sullivan Progress Plaza on Monday. | DYLAN LONG / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Philadelphia legislators will introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session that would transition Pennsylvania to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta announced his support for state Rep. Christopher Rabb’s HB 2132, which he will reintroduce to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives this session, and the federal Green New Deal, a congressional resolution to transition the country to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide economic justice for working-class people and minorities. Rabb originally introduced HB 2132 during the 2017-18 legislative session. 

“Coal, nuclear and gas will need to be addressed in terms of their current use,” Rabb told The Temple News. “It would be a statute that would not just be the government making high-capital investments, but private industry.”

The Green New Deal, H. Res. 109 and S. Res. 59, emerged in the national agenda after U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduced it to their respective Congressional houses on Feb. 7. The initiative has a potential cost of trillions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Some local Democratic leaders, like Kenyatta, the 181st District representative and a 2012 public communication alumnus, followed suit by promising to cosponsor Rabb’s bill for a local effort to move residences, industries and state and municipal buildings to pollution-free energy sources. 

The bill would also establish several agencies — the Clean Energy Transition Task Force, Clean Energy Center of Excellence, Council for Clean Energy Workforce Development and Clean Energy Workforce Development Fund — to assist with the state’s energy switch. 

A municipal Green New Deal could promote environmental solutions like fossil-fuel-free SEPTA transportation and utility companies’ transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, said Mitch Chanin, a strategist for 350 Philadelphia, the city’s chapter of an international environmental group that opposes coal, oil and gas projects. 

“Any version of a Green New Deal would have to involve a massive retrofitting of buildings across the city to be energy-efficient and to use non-fossil-fuel-based energy for heating and cooking,” Chanin said.

The Green New Deal proposals, both nationally and on the state level, have garnered reactions from students, environmental organizations and activists on Main Campus and in the city.

Ninety-two percent of Democrats support the policy goals of a Green New Deal, and 64 percent of Republicans do, according to a December 2018 survey by the Yale Program on Climate Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. 

“The Green New Deal is an ambitious and needed step in the fight against climate change,” Kenyatta said in a statement sent to The Temple News. “Climate change is real and we need to take action now.”

Rabb’s legislation has the potential to increase the momentum of climate activism, said Colin Pepper, the Philadelphia metro director for Defend Our Future PA, an environmental activist group with a chapter on Main Campus. 

“My initial reaction was excitement and happiness,” Pepper said.

Switching to renewable energy by 2050 is not ambitious enough and legislators should aim for a faster timeline on the state level, Chanin said.

“A massive investment is not something to be scared of,” he added. “This crisis is extremely urgent. The costs of not doing it are incalculable, given some of the worst scenarios that are possible.”

Ocasio-Cortez and Markey’s Green New Deal has also drawn criticism from conservative leaders for its suggested intervention in private business and projected cost.

Wind and solar energy are not a viable option for replacing all of the state’s energy sources, said state Rep. David Zimmerman, a Republican representative, because they produce such a small amount of the economy’s energy. 

Pennsylvania ranked third among coal-producing states in 2017, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“Despite 40 years of lucrative taxpayer-funded subsidies, [wind and solar energy] are non-competitive and produce less than 10 percent of the market’s energy,” Zimmerman wrote in an email to The Temple News. “We can’t get there by 2050 without new technology.”

“Based on what I’ve heard, it seems like a pretty radical policy that isn’t very feasible,” said Drew Holt, a senior management information systems major. 

“It seems like the driving force of it would be increasingly high taxes, and it would require turning all cars and buildings to renewables,” he added. “I don’t see how it could be done affordably.”

Chris Smith, the president of Temple College Republicans, is also skeptical about the national Green New Deal’s funding.

“It’s not realistic in the fact that it proposes a complete overhaul of the energy system in 10 years,” Smith said. “Maybe in 50 years, but not in 10. 

“One of the main criticisms that my group expresses is that it would kill jobs, it promises security for those unable to work,” he added. “…All the regulations will drive companies away.”

“We don’t need to organize against it because people see it for what it is,” he said.

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