US Rep. Mike Doyle’s climate change town hall omissions draw concerns from environmental advocates

US Rep. Mike Doyle’s climate change town hall omissions draw concerns from environmental advocates
click to enlarge MIke Doyle - CP PHOTO: RYAN DETO
  • CP photo: Ryan Deto
  • MIke Doyle
Next Wed., Aug. 14, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Forest Hills) is holding a town hall to talk about climate change. The event at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland will feature two panels of experts to discuss solutions to address climate change.

“I will provide an update on action to address climate change at the federal level, and there will be an opportunity for members of the audience to ask questions,” said Doyle in a press release. “I look forward to an interesting and informative event, and I hope to see you there.”

But some environmental advocates think the panels have some glaring omissions, like the failure to include experts who can speak about the public health effects of natural-gas drilling, aka fracking, and talk about organized labor’s role in implementing the Green New Deal, a sweeping proposal to move the U.S. off of reliance on fossil fuels.

Ned Ketyer is a local pediatrician and board member of the Environmental Health Project. Some advocates suggested that he be included in the panel discussions to talk about the fracking industry and its effect on water and air pollution. But he says he was rejected.

Ketyer says he applauds Doyle for holding the climate change town hall, but he wishes he was included in the panel because of fracking's growth in the Pittsburgh region and the negative effects he says will follow that growth. With the petrochemical cracker plant in Beaver County soon to be operational and the plan to create a storage hub for natural gas, natural-gas production, which is already high, will likely increase.

“This is a disaster for this region,” says Ketyer. “2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide has been permitted for the cracker plant. That is the equivalent of 400,000 cars to the region. We have to be real here.”

A recent article in The Revelator details the results of a report that looked at more than 1,500 studies on the public health impacts of fracking and the conclusion is troubling. “There is no evidence that fracking can operate without threatening public health directly and without imperiling climate stability upon which public health depends,” wrote the authors of the report.

Water contamination, air pollution, fracking-related earthquakes, and greenhouse gas emissions are all tied to the natural-gas industry. A recent report from Public Herald shows large amounts of radioactive fracking waste is being discharged into the Ohio River watershed.

Ketyer also mentions the potential methane leaks from fracking facilities. Methane contributes to global warming at 25 times the rate of carbon dioxide. He says the cracker plant and fracking growth in the region will wipe out any other greenhouse-gas reductions made through policies like green building standards and reducing trips taken in private automobiles. Ketyer says changes individuals make to combat climate change are important, but they are dwarfed by what large corporations need to do.

“We have to reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 50 percent,” says Ketyer, referencing the goals to avoid permanent and irreversible climate change damage.

Doyle says in a statement sent to City Paper that the town hall was organized to “bring attention to this serious environmental threat and potential achievable solutions that could dramatically reduce the emissions of greenhouse gas emissions that cause it.”

He says he consulted with a wide range of representatives from local organizations and many made a number of suggestions. Doyle blames time constraints for some of the rejections.

“As the agenda stands now, we plan to have a dozen brief presentations followed by a moderated panel discussion and Q&A – all of which has to fit into a two-hour window. There just wasn’t enough time to include everyone who was suggested to us,” says Doyle.

According to the League of Conservation Voters, which tracks Congressmember's environmental-related votes, Doyle has a 91 percent score for 2018 and a 78 percent lifetime score. He has served in the U.S. House since 1995.

Another speaker allegedly rejected from the panel was Peter Knowlton, president of the United Electrical union. Mike Stout of the Izaak Walton League, a national conservation group, says he suggested Knowlton, a Pittsburgh resident, to speak about the Green New Deal (GND) and organized labor’s role in that effort.

The GND is a proposed economic stimulus package aimed at combating climate change and economic inequality. The federal jobs guarantee is proposed to put people to work building infrastructure for renewable energy, energy efficiency upgrades, improving the electricity grid and transportation sector.

Stout says he was “pretty upset” that Knowlton was not included in the panel for the climate change town hall.

He says the energy sector is already going through a transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and it is important that organized labor has a voice in that transition. According to a July article in NPR's Marketplace, fracking companies over-saturated the market and many of them are losing investors, including Pittsburgh-based EQT.

Stout supports the GND because he thinks it “is the only viable solution to deal with the environmental solutions from a labor point of view.”

He recognizes that the natural-gas industry has a large amount of well-paying jobs for Southwestern Pennsylvanians and is not trying to demonize those workers. But Stout says the GND is necessary to both tackle climate change and maintain well-paying jobs for workers.

“What is going to take the jobs of the fossil fuel industry?” says Stout. “We need a [federally] funded jobs program to move us to sustainable energy.”

Doyle is not listed as a co-sponsor of House Resolution 109, the resolution indicating support for the Green New Deal.

In the end, Ketyer hopes that Democrats like Doyle will break their ties with the fossil-fuel industry. According to The Intercept, Doyle accepted $18,000 from oil and gas PACs in the 2017-2018 elections cycle. Unlike 31 House Democrats nationwide, including Pennsylvania U.S. Reps. like Madeleine Dean and Susan Wild, Doyle has not signed onto the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge, which bans accepting contributions of more than $200 from PACs, lobbyists, or executives of fossil fuel companies.

Ketyer says it’s antithetical to support the oil and gas industry while also supporting action on climate change.

“There is a sense of sort-of climate denialism among Democrats,” says Ketyer. “That says they support agreeable solutions on one side, but on the other side support of the petrochemical plant, you can't have it both ways.”