Environmental Protection in the Face of Governmental Deconstruction

By: Larry J. Schweiger

If you are still wondering why President Trump’s key appointments to vital Federal Agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Education Department, and the Energy Department are nominees who actually despise the very purpose of the agencies they are now running, wonder no more, because it has been made clear that President Trump and Stephen Bannon want to systematically destroy these agencies and gut their regulatory capacities.

Stephen Bannon has purposely maintained the scruffy appearance of one who would be better suited at a neighborhood bar stool, is now in the right-hand seat of power as Trump’s chief advisor and confidant. While Bannon has largely remained in the shadows and rarely speaking publically until his recent comments at the Conservative PAC. It’s now clear that Bannon is a fanatic but he should not be dismissed as a wild-eyed White Nationalist. Bannon has big plans for deconstruction of the Federal government and while it appears to be delusional and grandiose. It is not.

At the recent CPAC convention, Bannon provided a lens into the future that Trump has in store for all of us if we let him. With the clearest explanation for why many of Trump’s cabinet choices are well known mostly for despising and attacking the very Federal agencies they’ve been designated to lead, Bannon made it clear that these nominees weren’t appointed to lead essential Federal agencies like the Energy Department, Education or the Environmental Protection Agency, but to gut them.

Remember then Texas Governor Rick Perry in 2012 promised to abolish the Energy Department when he forgot its name?  Scott Pruitt became head of the EPA an agency despite the fact that he has been trying to shut down the agency with 14 separate lawsuits that we now know from his hidden emails were spawned not in his office but by lawyers representing the oil and gas industry. Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, wants American taxpayers to pay for private schools and even poorly regulated “fly-by-night online virtual schools” rather than properly funding struggling public schools.

The Trump administration has hatched an audacious stratagem to “deconstruct” critical elements of our government so special interests especially the fossil fuel industries can run wild as never before. When Bannon brags about dismantling the “administrative state,” what he’s saying is that Trump will be unleashing corporate predation with a wrecking ball; letting polluters do whatever they want, whenever and wherever they want, regardless of their impact on our environment or the direct harm it inflicts on American communities. He’s plotting the complete the absolute elimination of our ability as citizens to constrain their runaway greed or halt corporate and bank malfeasance that crashed our economy in 2008. Little wonder that the stock market has been going wild since the election, the speculators and the barons of industry will be free at last.

At CPAC, Bannon said, “every business leader we’ve had in is saying not just taxes, but it is — it is also the regulation. I think the consistent, if you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction, the way the progressive left runs, is if they can’t get it passed, they’re just gonna put in some sort of regulation in — in an agency. That’s all gonna be deconstructed and I think that that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.”

“Deconstruction” is Bannon’s code word for the shredding of the Federal safety net. This rollback of safeguards has been in the aim of dark-moneyed interests since 1971 when Lewis Powell wrote his manifesto to the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. The Lewis memo inspired a long and deliberate takeover of our electoral process systematically executed by minority interests through such means as voter suppression, sophisticated data-driven gerrymandering and toxic amounts of dark money flooding front groups like the Heritage Foundation, fake news outlets and through super PACs.

The race to the bottom begins… President Trump is creating obfuscation when say he likes clean air, clean water while he recently authorized the Keystone and Dakota Pipelines despite the environmental dangers, and he took steps to dismantle climate pollution rules, repealed coal mine regulations, endangered species protections and clean water rules.

The South Florida Water Management District is seeing their opportunity to ask the Trump administration to unleash the district from an important 1992 consent agreement with the Bush Administration that committed the water district to clean up the phosphorus pollution that is severely degrading the Everglades National Park and the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge. (Remember the massive algae blooms last summer that were killing manatees and choking waterways?)

Meanwhile western Republicans have changed the laws to allow a give-away of our precious public land estate to western states so they can be delivered to special interests for exploitation. Here in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has launched a study to determine where Pennsylvania’s environmental protections exceed the Federal government so they can cut protections down to the weakened levels being advanced in Washington. This is not how we “make America great again” in fact, the many reckless actions bring America closer to wholesale destruction.

At the CPAC conference Bannon warned: “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.” Let’s prove Bannon right on this point. We must fight those who have set out to destroy our environmental protections. Bannon’s agenda is a clear and present danger to the America we all know and love.

We must demand that our government not only protect existing safeguards but also create a framework for a clean energy economy that is already creating more jobs than oil, coal, and gas combined. Things can rapidly get much worse than any of us could have imagined in our lifetimes. The United States has already set more than 2,800 new record high temperatures this month, 738 new records in this past week alone while we have seen only set 27 record lows. It is time every American demand our members of Congress and Senator Toomey to stand up against the deconstruction of our governmental safeguards and not let society crumble from the effects of climate disruption. Please call each of you lawmakers now. Here’s a nifty trick: Text your Zip Code to 520-200-2223 and you’ll get a text back with the names and numbers of your federal and state representatives and senators. This is an easy way to get the numbers into your phone book for repeated use. From the shape of things to come, we will all need it.

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Rediscovering the Lesson of the Inchcape Rock

By: Larry J. Schweiger

In the 18th century, English poet Robert Southey wrote about a 14th century holy Abbot of Aberbrothok who mounted a bell on a treacherous sandstone reef eleven miles off the east coast of Scotland to warn mariners during severe weather. As the story goes, a notorious pirate Ralph the Rover vandalized the bell and dropped it into the sea on his way to plunder other vessels. Having been gone for a time and on his journey back to Scotland with a ship laden with booty, Ralph the Rover encountered a severe storm and without warning, struck the reef and sank his vessel. Southey writes of the Rover’s final moments as the ship sank:

“But even in his dying fear,

One dreadful sound could the Rover hear;

A sound as if with the Inchcape Bell,

The Devil below was ringing his knell.”

For many generations, “The Inchcape Rock” was taught as a cautionary tale to dissuade those who might seek to destroy warning bells.

The poem and the moral justice of the story have long been forgotten as the incoming Trump Administration and the Republican-led Congress are moving to destroy the warning bells of climate disruption by ending NASA climate research efforts. Trump advisor and former Congressman turned lobbyist working largely for the space industry, Bob Walker wants to purge what he called “politicized science” by ending NASA’s climate change research and shifting the funding to a “deep space” program in a blatant move to eliminate the warning bells of climate science. California Governor Jerry Brown responded that the state of California might even launch its own space program if Trump shuts down the climate satellites and ends NASA’s role in climate science. For the past several weeks, climate scientists have been busy copying Federal climate databases to private servers to prevent their destruction.

Once the warning bells of NASA are silenced, the Trump administration will undo EPA’s carbon pollution regulations and fulfill the promise of abandoning the Paris Accord. These are not idle campaign promises by the Twitterer-in-Chief. Despite the many clear climate-warming signals across the planet in 2016, Trump has assembled an administration for accomplishing his reckless ambitions against climate and environmental protections.

Secretary of State:

His nomination for Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson (Putin’s friend) is ripe for blatant self-dealing over President Obama’s Russian oil sanctions and as he unwinds the Paris Accords. As the head of a global corporation more powerful than many nations, Tillerson has repeatedly misrepresented basic climate science, supported borderless world trade in oil while calling for “a global free market for energy.” Tillerson who has never shown any interest in representing America’s broader National interests in the world will now be our Secretary of State. While ExxonMobil has always had its thumb on the scale of our State Department policies, never before has a CEO of a major oil company ever been suggested for this critically important public office.

Environmental Protection Agency:

I cannot think of a worse choice for EPA Administrator than Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has deep and troubling entanglements with the fossil fuel industry as Oklahoma’s Attorney General. He ignored thousands of Oklahoma homeowners who suffered structural damages from earthquakes-now occurring every 12 hrs.-caused by fracking injection wells. As Oklahoma’s Attorney General, he disassembled the environmental enforcement division and Pruitt led a Nationwide fight against EPA’s efforts to address climate change, toxic air pollution and to protect the waters of the US. I suspect the Koch Brothers are high-fiving over this announcement, as the fox will be put in charge of the chicken coop.

Department of Energy:

At the Department of Energy, Trump is replacing a brilliant Dr. Ernest Moniz with former Texas Governor Rick Perry who is best known for dancing with the stars and for promising to eliminate several federal agencies as a presidential candidate five years ago. When asked to name the agencies, Rick Perry forgot the Energy Department’s name and ended by saying “oops”. Perry’s A&M college transcript consisted mostly of C’s and D’s and contrasts with Moniz who has a Bachelor of Science degree summa cum laude in Physics from Boston College and a Doctorate in Theoretical Physics from Stanford University. Perry apparently hates efficiency and clean energy investments and hopes to abolish the energy department that oversees everything nuclear as well as a large and complex portfolio. What could go wrong with this appointment?

 The Jagged Rocks of Climate Change:

The World Meteorological Organization reported that the global temperature in 2016 is about 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, dangerously close to the 1.5C threshold of the Paris climate agreement. Last year set another new record as the hottest year in record keeping and not surprisingly, 2016 also set new records for severe and devastating weather. According to the American Red Cross: “the American Red Cross provided more assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people impacted by these disasters across the United States than in the past two years combined. In 2016, Red Cross volunteers responded to 180 significant disasters in 45 states and two U.S. territories including wildfires, storms, flooding, Hurricane Matthew and other emergencies…”

Things can only get much worse if the Trump administration pretends that the growing threats from storms, sea level rise, droughts and forest fires don’t exist or if they ignore the consequences of massive volumes of carbon pollution-trapping enormous amounts of heat and acidifying our oceans. Regardless of our political ideology, religion or worldview, there will be a severe price to be paid for silencing the bells of climate science.




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Trump and the Paris Accord

After 21 painful years of negotiations following the sabotaged Kyoto Climate Agreement, 191 countries finally found agreement on a new strategy to confront climate change and agreed to the Paris Climate Accord last December. Since then, the Paris Accord has been ratified by 82 nations with sufficient emissions to trigger the early launch of the Accord. It finally took effect on November 4th.

The goals of the Accord are to reduce greenhouse emissions, help countries adapt to wrenching changes brought about by a warming climate and finance projects in developing nations that repair damage wrought by climate change. The explicit goal is for all nations to work together to hold global average temperature increases to well below 3.6 °F (2 °C) above pre-industrial levels in an effort to avoid the vast damages caused by dangerous climate change.

President-elect Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of this historic agreement, and rescind the Clean Power Plan that requires coal-fired power plants to cut carbon pollution. That would be a tragedy for our country and our families. It would also be a huge lost opportunity to capitalize on the economic advantages of leading the transition to safe, clean energy.

Pennsylvania has a significant responsibility to cut carbon pollution. As the third largest carbon emitter in the nation, Pennsylvania produces about 2 days of the year’s worldwide total emissions. But Pennsylvania has much to gain from aggressively pursuing efforts to cut carbon emissions by committing to an ambitious effort to clean up our energy production by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Pennsylvania already has 66,000 people working in clean energy industries – more than those employed in the coal and gas industries combined. With the right mix of state policies including strengthening our renewable energy and energy efficiency standards, giving renewable energy full access to the electricity grid, and fairly paying homeowners for the excess power they generate from rooftop solar power plants, we could significantly increase the jobs and the economic impact of clean energy.

But right now, that’s not the path our misdirected state legislature is taking. Under the influence of the shale gas and coal interests, the legislature has repeatedly tied the hands of the Wolf administration and the DEP to work on a rational climate plan or increase our renewable energy standards. They have attempted to significantly weaken our successful energy conservation program.

Pennsylvania clearly risks heading down a blind alley by investing in the wrong energy path promising enormous risks and stranded fossil fuel assets. There are 32 additional gas-powered plants proposed for Pennsylvania in various stages of consideration, development, and construction. The planning assumption going into these new plants is not based on growing urgency for constraining carbon emissions but is based solely on sufficient recoverable gas reserves and traditional capitalization considerations over the expected lifetime of new gas combustion turbines up to about 60 years. These assets along with the new pipelines, compressor stations and other gas appurtenances will not be viable in short order as we approach climate tipping points.

The stakes could not be higher. Thirty-one highly respected American scientific organizations recently came together to warn Congress: “If we are to avoid the most severe impacts of climate change, emissions of greenhouse gasses must be dramatically reduced. In addition, adaptation will be necessary to address those impacts that are already unavoidable.” The well-known former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Jim Hansen has gone so far as to warn, “2 degrees of warming is actually a prescription for long-term disaster”.

The Paris Accord is an important first step to move 191 nations in the direction of addressing our common future to avoid a long and growing list of catastrophic climate consequences. The Clean Power Plan offers a specific way forward, and Pennsylvania is in an enviable position to capitalize on the new economic development that a transition to clean energy offers. Working together we can and we must do our part as responsible stewards. To walk away from this vital work is both immoral and stupid. (Follow this on pennfuture.org)

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Addressing Over-Population in an Overheated World

Temperatures on earth have rapidly moved outside of human experience. The earth is warmer today than it’s been in 100,000 years and because of the long lag times of temperature momentum, much more warming is already baked in. Current carbon dioxide levels are sufficient without ongoing carbon pollution to push the earth to hit the highest temperatures experienced in the past 2 million years.

With the election of Trump, climate change is now considered a hoax and a plot by the Chinese to make the U.S. non-competitive by the one who will soon lead America. He promises to renege on the Paris Accord and abandon EPA’s Clean Power Plan. He will end what he called the “Obama Administration’s war on coal’ and eliminate the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency while giving most of his tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans. He also wants to end restrictions on energy production on federal lands and he supports fossil fuel developments across America including the Keystone XL pipeline and other ill-conceived pipeline developments.

Even if the Paris climate deal is somehow achieved and all signatory nations do their part to further limit carbon dioxide emissions to hold worldwide temperatures to the so-called “safe” limit of 2 degrees C, the earth will experience water scarcity, droughts, crop stresses and fish and shellfish suppression from hot acidic waters. These degrading changes will pose an enormous threat to much of the world’s population.

We are leaving the climate regime that watered our crops and provided fresh water to support nearly 8 billion people and provided a wonderful context for human civilization and for nature. As an example, 1 billion people currently rely on fish harvested from coral reef systems which are in rapid decline and collapse worldwide from carbonic acid, warming waters, pollution and poor fisheries and coral reef management. One study from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research suggests that over 600 million people will face new or aggravated water scarcity if the world hits 3.5 degrees C. of warming above pre-industrial levels, as it is projected to do under current climate pledges. Nearly a half billion people, particularly in the Near and Middle-East will experience severe water scarcity. About 668 million people will either live in water-scarce river basins or find existing water scarcity is aggravated as the earth overheats.[i] Water scarcity, food shortages and sea-level rise will trigger growing numbers of climate refugees year by year.

An ongoing population explosion in the face of these threats greatly compounds the danger. Human numbers have doubled since1970, food consumption has tripled while energy use has quadrupled while the numbers of fish and wildlife populations have been cut by more than half worldwide, falling by a staggering 58 percent between 1970 and 2012 according to a recent report by the WWF and the Zoological Society. http://www.euronews.com/2016/10/27/world-wildlife-population-drops-almost-two-thirds-in-40-years

In the face of climate change, ocean acidification, fisheries depletion, coastal dead zones, deforestation, and with the fast-approaching sixth great species extinction, it is clear that human population is out of balance with nature and life support systems. Internationally respected naturalist Sir David Attenborough has warned of the many dangers facing the Earth’s ecosystems from climate change, pollution and habitat changes associated with profound population growth. The Population Reference Bureau calculates that if current trends continue that by 2053, human populations could hit 10 billion. In the light of such projections, it’s clear that as world populations continue to grow, while the world’s capacity to provide food and water and to sustain vulnerable communities. is shrinking and severely strained in many regions calamity is in our future.

The world’s capacity to supply food and water is shrinking while the number of mouths to feed is continuing to grow. So many of the major threats facing our planet would be less challenging and more manageable if there were fewer people and no threat is lessened by an exploding world population, yet there seems to be a taboo on bringing over-population into the open. http://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/09/02/world-population-to-hit-10bn-by-mid-century-forecast Sir David challenges those who pretend that population is not a problem. His compelling views are presented in his 2011 RSA President’s Lecture: http://www.populationmatters.org/attenborough-talk/

With growing evidence of a worldwide environmental crisis, more, more and more young men and women are struggling with questions about starting a family in greater numbers than ever before. A recent NPR segment, asks “Should we be having kids in the age of climate change.” http://www.npr.org/2016/08/18/479349760/should-we-be-having-kids-in-the-age-of-climate-change

I am increasingly asked by informed young people alarmed by the recent election and deeply worried about the declining environmental conditions on earth, “Should I plan on having children?” It’s a hard question and I believe each must make their own decisions with their eyes wide open. As a father and a grandfather, I grieve over the Hobson’s choice many now face on family planning that we are leaving to the next generation.

Rhonny Dam, a climate speaker, tells her powerful personal journey, including sometimes painful and flawed relational choices on her path as a childfree “atypical chick”. Dam shares her personal struggle as a childfree-by-choice person in a very transparent way. She explores that after many struggles how she came to believe that childfree women and men must be willing to create a new path. By creating a paradigm shift, childfree leaders can confront the urgent need for a smaller population on earth and ease the adaptation to our rapidly changing world by serving others. Read more: http://werenothavingababy.com/childfree/an-atypical-chick/ For those who consider being childfree, I would encourage those who do to devote themselves not just to being childfree but being childfree for service to the world. Nature desperately needs to be nurtured now more than ever before. Low-lying populations and those regions with strained food and water supplies are particularly in need of more support and leadership. Dam’s very provocative book should stimulate a deeper conversation about important issues and can be purchased: https://www.amazon.com/Atypical-Chick-Gay-Womans-Body/dp/1534922040

[i] Dieter Gerten1, Wolfgang Lucht1, Sebastian Ostberg, Jens Heinke, Martin Kowarsch, Holger Kreft, Zbigniew W Kundzewiczl, Johann Rastgooy, Rachel Warren and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Asynchronous exposure to global warming: freshwater resources and terrestrial ecosystems, September 12, 2013, Environmental Research Letters, Volume 8, Number 3, http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034032/pdf

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In Search of the Truth about Climate Denial: Exxon Mobil has pulled out all stops to squash its history in fostering climate denial

By: Larry Schweiger
In the old days, lawmakers would carefully hide their ties to major corporate funders and especially their deep connections to the oil giants. Not anymore, Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are acting as handmaidens of big oil.
Responding to ExxonMobil’s lobbyists, the House Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and the Committee majority are actively interfering with an ongoing fraud investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey (D) who have been investigating whether Exxon committed fraud by hiding information that goes as far back as 1977.
It turns out based on documents that are now publically available, back in the 1970’s, Exxon gathered data on carbon dioxide’s role in causing climate change from top-notch scientists that they funded. When the scientists warned that their products were causing climate change, they rejected the scientific warnings, suppressed the information from their stockholders and for the next nearly forty years lied to investors and to the consuming public about climate change and their products’ role in causing it.
Instead of supporting this important fraud investigation, the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology subpoenaed the attorneys general who are doing their job by investigating to see if Exxon Mobil Corp. fraudulently suppressed information about climate change from stockholders and consumers. For good measure, the committee also subpoenaed nine environmental groups who may have gathered incriminating evidence against Exxon Mobil.
The Union of Concerned Scientists was one of the groups subpoenaed. Kenneth Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists responded at the time, “We believe this investigation is actually compromising our First Amendment rights to petition government and (to) have freedom of association,” adding “We think this is not a lawful subpoena.”
The Climate Accountability Institute, the Climate Reality Project, the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Greenpeace, 350.org, the Global Warming Legal Action Project and the Pawa Law Group were also subpoenaed in this deliberate interference with an ongoing fraud investigation.
Chairman Lamar Smith and his witch-hunting committee are trying to intimidate environmental leaders who have been exposing the truth about Exxon Mobil and through bogus subpoenas attempting to thwart state Attorneys General from doing their job. Talk about Federal overreach and hubris, the Republican Party with a penchant for claiming state’s rights through Smith’s leadership is Federally interfering with a legitimate and much-needed state-level fraud investigation.
Concurrent with the Congressional interference, Exxon Mobil has also launched a Federal District Court action in friendly oil-rich Texas to block a Massachusetts state subpoena.  Responding to this, in a friend of the court brief the States of Maryland, New York, Alaska, Connecticut, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, Alaska and Virgin Islands have submitted “this brief to explain that governing precedents—and the federalism principles underpinning those cases—bar the recipient of a state Attorney General’s subpoena from bringing a federal lawsuit to stymie an Attorney General’s investigation, where the recipient already has a comprehensive process for challenging the subpoena in the courts of the Attorney General’s State.”
“The amici States have a compelling interest in the traditional authority of their Attorneys General to investigate and combat violations of state law. As the chief legal officers of their respective States, Attorneys General have long used their state law powers—including the issuance of civil subpoenas, which are often called civil investigative demands (CIDs)—to
gather information necessary to determine whether a company has engaged in fraudulent or misleading conduct harmful to the people of the Attorney General’s State. Proper respect for the States’ sovereign interests has long dictated that the federal courts should not needlessly impede this core duty of state Attorneys General to detect and halt misconduct.”
Exxon Mobil has a lot at stake in this fraud investigation. if found guilty, it could eventually be held liable for its proportional share of the enormous damage that climate change is doing all over the world. If the company  was innocent of fraud, they would perhaps not welcome the inquiry but would be quick to respond to the civil investigative demands in this matter. Instead, Exxon Mobil is doing what it did after the ExxonValdez oil spill by using its political power and its vast legal resources to thwart accountability.

Continue reading

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Our State Parks are Open to All… Let’s keep it that way


waterfall at McConnells mills

Waterfall in McConnell’s Mills State Park


By: Larry Schweiger

The National Park Service just celebrated its one-hundredth birthday. I have been privileged to visit many if not most of our National Parks over my career. Sadly, far too many people never get the chance that I have had to experience some of the most magnificent places on earth. Some people will never even visit a single National Park in their lifetime.

Seeing this injustice years ago the late Dr. Maurice Goddard became a great champion advancing the creation of a state park within twenty-five miles of every Pennsylvanian. Goddard wanted “every family with a few gallons of gas and a picnic basket” to be able to enjoy nature and he spent his life making that happen. His final confirmation appointment as DER Secretary was held up thirteen months because he put a proposed park over his own career.

We are beneficiaries of Goddard’s visionary leadership. Some of the finest spots to visit in Western Pennsylvania were protected as state parks by Goddard and other forward-thinking individuals and organizations including Graham Netting, Frank Preston, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the R. K. Mellon Foundation and so many others.

Western Pennsylvania is blessed with some pretty special places. Names like Ohiopyle, McConnell’s Mills, Moraine, Presque Isle, Pymatuning, Erie Bluffs, Goddard and Point State Parks -just to name few- trigger good memories. In many ways, these parks define what is wonderful about living in and around Pittsburgh and they are free, accessible to all regardless of social class. We can sail, kayak, hike or just contemplate the great glacial forces that carved the Slippery Rock gorge when a supraglacial lake ruptured. There is much to enjoy and learn while visiting our nearby state parks.

Goddard also fought against many attempts by politicians to privatize the parks with hotels, golf courses, ski resorts and private marinas. Goddard was an outspoken champion of the constitutional amendment that declared “Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the People” (emphasis added) and he beat back attempts to privatize parklands or even proposals for the state to charge user fees. Goddard started his life in meager circumstances and he never forgot the disadvantaged. He was a champion for all the people regardless of the color of their skin or their status in life. He firmly believed that parks should never be put behind any kind of pay wall.

Goddard’s vision was for full and free access to our state parks could be radically changed forever if State Representative Brian L. Ellis (R) gets his way on his House Bill 2013. This bill would take power away from the Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Governor by creating an unelected board of special interests comprised of legislative appointees charged with soliciting, reviewing, and approving private development projects in Pennsylvania’s state parks. It would authorize this political board to advance construction of golf courses, office parks, hotels, amusement parks and who knows what other encroachments that have absolutely no place in our state parks.

More than ever before, we need 21st-century places to escape all the screens, noise, and nonsense. Our children are particularly at risk while spending an average of 8-11 hours a day in front of screens. Newly published research out of UCLA found kids who went five days without exposure to phones, televisions and computers were significantly better at reading human emotions than kids who were living in front of such screens. There is no better place for children to escape from their ubiquitous devices than by playing in one of state parks.

We must not give the decision-making for our parks over to crony capitalists who seek public assets for private gain? Make no mistake, there is money to be made in our state parks by damaging the very qualities we should be protecting.

In defending his bill, Representative Ellis claims, “We’ve got to move the state parks of Pennsylvania into the 21st century and deliver a product that the changing world is looking for.”

Really? I don’t think so.

The environmental and conservation community was able to stop recent attempts to pass the Ellis bill but since the Governor’s office indicated support, we need to be prepared for future efforts to encroach on our parks by educating the public about the threats.

Goddard was right. Our parks are and must remain tranquil places of reflection and contemplation, free and available to everyone in the community. They must not be carved up by some political hacks so their friends can make money by creating golf courses amusements and other encroachments so that just the moneyed few can afford to access.


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A Painful lesson in Climate Injustice

As our world overheats, the poor and elderly will struggle and suffer the most. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned, “Susceptibility to climate change differs across sectors and regions… Recent modeling of heat wave impacts in 44 U.S. urban populations, allowing for acclimatization, suggests that large U.S. cities may experience, on average, several hundred extra deaths per summer.”

We got a painful reminder of how that will play out in the years ahead in Pittsburgh. During the blistering heat of summer, a window air conditioner that was overworking in the stifling heat sparked a fire trapping two boys; Dylan, 7, and Nicholas Taylor, 12, who were apparently sleeping in the attic. This family lost everything; two precious children, a family dog and all of their possessions. The fire marshal reported that the smoke and flames spread rapidly and trapped the children and concluded that it was an electrical fire triggered by an overheated air conditioner that was plugged into a power strip.

In August 2003 a massive heat wave enveloped Europe for three weeks and killed about 70,000 people mostly elderly and poor according to a data compiled by Richard Keller at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and author of “Fatal Isolation: The Devastating Paris Heat Wave of 2003”.

Pittsburgh like the rest of the world has been very hot. According to the Climate Prediction Center, this will be the first time that the three-month forecast is for above average temperatures for all fifty states for each of the next three months. In recent days, based on what has happened so far this year, NASA scientists are predicting that we have a 99 percent chance that this will be the hottest year ever recorded, surpassing the current record holder-2015.

The scientific and moral dimensions of climate change are clear. Pope Francis for example, issued a powerful 184-page papal letter “Laudato Si,” warning that climate change presents far-reaching environmental and social consequences especially for the poor. He pointed to “(t)hose who possess more resources and economic or political power” and he observed that they “seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms”. The pope warned that climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The NAACP has long recognized: “Global climate change has a disproportionate impact on communities of color in the United States and around the world.” They go on to warn “(h)istorically, American society has failed to make the connection in terms of the direct impact of environmental injustices, including climate change, on our own lives, families, and communities, which depend on the physical environment and its bounty.”

I feel a measure of personal guilt sitting in my solar-powered air-conditioned home and thinking about families like the Taylors who are just trying to survive hyperthermia in a poorly insulated, overheated home in an overheating world. The things I witnessed in the natural world including the melting of the Arctic, Greenland, Alps and in the decline of the Amazon Rainforests are now happening in our neighborhoods and the pace of warming appears to be moving faster than projections.

We should learn a lesson from horrendous tragedies. It’s been ten years since former Vice President Al Gore let me listen to an uncut version of Melissa Etheridge’s “I Need To Wake Up” on his IPod. Why has it taken us so long to wake up? I have concluded that some are blinded by their ideology, others by their paychecks, and far too many Western Pennsylvania politicians are blinded by fossil-fuel lobbyists and the checks they bring.

While our lawmakers procrastinate curbing carbon pollution, many on fixed or limited income may not have a way for relief as our world overheats. We must do more to help the poor, disabled and elderly to prepare for the coming heat that will only get worse year by year.

We must wake up to what is happening to our world and commit to ending carbon pollution in all of its forms while helping each other adapt to a warmer world. There is some good news. In May, five Republican senators including Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Susan Collins, Mark Kirk and Rob Portman joined five Democrats and sponsored an amendment calling on Congress “to take actions that reduce emissions and combat climate change”. As a part of any comprehensive climate policy that might emerge in the coming months, we must put a price on carbon pollution and make sure that a portion of the money collected is reinvested in insulating homes, LED lights and in rooftop solar panels for the poor.

In the meantime, Western Pennsylvania community leaders must explore new ways to help the most vulnerable in our communities adapt to a warming world. You can help the Taylor family directly by donating at:

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