Some of the most “interesting” moments of my tenure as Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) involved the politics that shape our state’s rapidly-changing energy future.
A year ago, during a public listening session on the Clean Power Plan, I was physically threatened by a climate change-denier who stood an arm’s length from me to deliver his snarling testimony about climate change being a liberal hoax (I’m paraphrasing) contrived by “idiots.” He punctuated it by reaching into his bag to produce document after damning document that he would slam onto the table in front of me. I remember feeling the breeze as they whipped by my head.
When I informed the gentleman that his time had run out, he grumbled and slammed the still-heavy bag down in front of me. He took a seat in the front row and immediately started heckling the next commenter, a Clean Power Plan supporter. I asked him to please be respectful of other commenters.
The CPP supporter continued, and seconds later, my friend started heckling again. This time, I said “Sir, you need to be quiet.” He stood up and walked toward me. “Maybe I’ll make you be quiet,” he growled menacingly.
I looked him in the eye. “Do I have to call security?” (We hadn’t arranged for any – I was bluffing). Fortunately, he backed down. He called me an uncharitable name, and said, “I’ll see you at the next meeting,” and stormed out.
Fortunately, the plainclothes Pennsylvania State Troopers who were assigned to protect me at subsequent listening sessions were never pressed into service.
But I did encounter others with equally strong views about Pennsylvania’s energy future.
While chairing public meetings of the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, opponents of pipeline development and natural gas drilling regularly called me a number of other uncharitable names. One meeting even featured the arrest of seven protestors.
The General Assembly, meanwhile, was insisting—by overwhelming majorities—on putting its (unconstitutional) stamp of approval on any DEP plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from stationary sources of electricity production.
Pennsylvania’s energy future will be shaped—largely, I believe, and despite the strong views I’ve encountered—by market forces. The so called “war on coal” has been waged not by President Obama and jackbooted regulators, but by cheap natural gas. Steeply declining renewable energy costs are already disrupting energy markets. The Clean Power Plan may yet have an effect. As will successor climate policies that even now are becoming urgently necessary.
But politics matter. A lot. And in Pennsylvania, they are complex, deeply entrenched, and heated.
The event is open to the public. Organizers tell me there will be open bar and light hors d’oeuvres. I forgot to ask about security.