2019 YEAR IN REVIEW
The Better Path Coalition’s first full year is drawing to a close, so we’re taking this opportunity to thank all of you who have helped make it a success! Here are the highlights organized chronologically.
Article 1, Section 27 Campaign
Our first big campaign of 2019 started on Election Day in 2018 when people across the state gathered signatures on our Article 1, Section 27 petition at their polling locations. We gathered nearly 10,000 signatures from Pennsylvanians who called on their state legislators and governor to uphold the environmental rights amendment in Pennsylvania’s constitution. On January 27, we headed to Harrisburg for two days of actions that began with a panel discussion on Article 1, Section 27 featuring Franklin Kury, author of the amendment. The next day, Team Lorax delivered the signatures and copies of the book, The Lorax, to Governor Wolf and legislators’ offices. In 2020, stay tuned for our Return of the Lorax phase of the campaign we’ll kick off on the anniversary of last year’s action.
Restore Pennsylvania Campaign
The day we got home from Harrisburg, Governor Wolf announced his climate-killing Restore Pennsylvania plan, so we were back in Harrisburg for the Budget Address. We stood at the entrance to the House Chamber and spoke with legislators as they arrived for the address to let them know that Restore PA is a recipe for disaster. When the Senate and House Restore PA bills were introduced in June with so many co-sponsors that the bills were close to having enough votes to pass, we pressured co-sponsors to remove their names from the bills. So far, six legislators have removed their names. Several others have promised to vote no should the bills make it to the floor. As part of our campaign to pressure co-sponsors, we launched a Twitter campaign called #PAClimateCountdown where we tweeted at them each day with tweets counting down the days we have left to address climate change. Despite all the indications that the climate crisis is upon us and that the natural gas industry is imploding, Governor Wolf continues to push for Restore PA, so we’ll keep working to defeat it in 2020.
It’s time to unseat Daryl Metcalfe as the chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. When Metcalfe was ousted from the State Government Committee at the beginning of the year for his homophobic meltdown, he was moved to ER&E. In March, he hosted the first of two hearings featuring climate deniers. We were there dressed as mythical characters with the message “We’re myths. Climate change isn’t.” Our message won the day. In fact, our action was even covered in The Guardian. When Metcalfe conducted a second hearing with even more climate deniers, we attended the meeting in tin foil hats. After the second hearing, we launched a campaign to get Metcalfe removed from the ER&E committee. In 2020, we’ll continue our campaign that will involve, among other things, delivering a petition to Speaker Turzai calling for his removal. Please sign and share our petition!
Meetings with the Auditor General and Minority Leader Costa’s Staff
When we heard that Auditor General DePasquale and Senators Costa and Fontana were holding public hearings on climate change that didn’t include representatives of frontline communities and grassroots organizers, we requested meetings. The Auditor General and his staff met with us in April. Senator Costa’s staff met with us in June. In both meetings, we explained that fracking and climate change are inextricably linked and that, to address climate change, the state must halt fracking and petrochemical development. We were disappointed to see the Auditor General’s report that resulted from the hearings he held was little more than an ad for Restore Pennsylvania. There will surely be more meetings and hearings organized by elected officials. We will continue to demand that affected Pennsylvanians’ voices are included.
National Emergency PA Truth and Poverty Tour
Michael Bagdes-Canning, the Better Path Coalition representative on the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign Coordinating Committee, participated in the National Emergency PA Truth and Poverty Tour of the northern tier. The tour included a meet and greet with the Erie NAACP and other groups, a Green New Deal Town Hall also in Erie, a political education forum around family separation in McKean County, and a potluck / presentation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Athens and Sheshequin in Athens, PA. Bagdes-Canning told the story of environmental devastation in Butler County and of the efforts of the Better Path Coalition at each stop. The Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival is an all-volunteer effort led by the poor and dispossessed, demanding an end to the inseparable evils of poverty, racism, militarism and the war economy, and environmental devastation.
There is one party in Pennsylvania’s government. It’s the fossil fuel party and we, the people, aren’t invited. Corporate influence over our political process is the single biggest obstacle to climate action. To bring attention to the far-too-cozy relationship between our government and the oil and gas industry, we dressed as Monopoly Men to protest outside a happy hour hosted by a state lobbying association.
Brown Bag Briefing on New Research on the Health and Climate Impacts of Fracking
The coalition organized a briefing at the Capitol for legislators and other elected officials to announce new reports on fracking’s impacts on health and climate change. The reports included the Sixth Edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking and new reports from the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Fracktracker, and Oil Change International. Dr. Brian Schwartz of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health was also on hand to discuss some of his research included in the Compendium and Dr. Ned Ketyer traveled from SWPA to discuss the public meeting held the previous evening on the spike in rare cancers in four counties.
Investigate SWPA Cancer Cases Campaign
Following the brown bag briefing, we delivered a letter to Governor Wolf’s office signed by more than 100 organizations and 800 individuals calling on him to investigate the spike in Ewing Sarcoma and other cancers diagnosed in children in SWPA. We worked with other organizations to draft and gather signatures on the letter in response to the Post-Gazette’s “The Human Toll” investigation reported in May. Wolf refused to investigate. In October, we continued to call for an investigation at a press conference we organized with our partners prior to the Department of Health meeting held at Canon-McMillan High School in Washington County. Prior to the meeting, we had submitted another letter to Governor Wolf calling on him to attend the meeting. Neither he nor DOH Secretary Levine attended. On November 18, we partnered with Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Center for Coalfield Justice on a Capitol briefing called Voices of the Cancer Crisis in SWPA for legislators hosted by Senator Katie Muth and Representative Sara Innamorato, followed by a press event outside of Wolf’s office. Wolf emerged from his office to speak with the relative he’d refused to meet with previously. Four days later, he announced that his administration would study the cancers and other fracking-related health impacts. From the beginning, we’d been frustrated that the press outside of SWPA was not covering the story. That changed on November 18 when the Associated Press’ coverage of the press event and the announcement four days later was picked up by hundreds of papers, tv, and radio stations nationwide including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other major media outlets. While the importance of Wolf’s response to our action can’t be overstated, it still falls far short of what we called for. Since our first letter, we have called for an investigation and a halt to shale gas development until it can be eliminated as the cause of the cancers. Conducting studies that will end around the time Wolf leaves office doesn’t cut it. We will continue to demand action.
Tour of SWPA Fracking Impacts
Governor Wolf has never visited an affected community to see the impacts of his shale gas policies firsthand. The same is true for many of the legislators who make the laws about fracking and climate change. We decided to change that. This summer, the Better Path Coalition teamed up with a great group of speakers in SWPA led by Lois Bjornson to schedule tours of one of the areas hard hit both by shale gas development and the spike in rare cancers. To date, Senators Iovino, Kearney, Leach, Muth, and L. Williams, and Representatives Innamorato and Webster have attended, as have the Senator Costa’s Chief of Staff and a member of Senator Dinniman’s staff. Governor Wolf has not responded to our invitations nor to the one he received in person from Janice Blanock, mother of Luke Blanock who died of Ewing Sarcoma in 2016.We announced tour dates through June shortly before the legislature left for the holidays. We’ve already got our first reservation for the new year and will keep pressing for more legislators to attend.
All I Want __ Is Clean Water
The name is taken from a sign a child carried at a recent Mariner East pipeline protest that read “All I want for Christmas is clean water”. It inspired a social media campaign coordinated by members of our coalition and allies from pipeline fights in Virginia and elsewhere. People posted photos and videos of themselves holding signs with versions of the same message altered to reflect the holiday, observance, or celebration of their choice.
This list just covers the highlights of what was a very busy year. We anticipate 2020 will only be busier. If you’re not already a member of the Better Path Coalition, we invite you or your entire organization to sign up! If you’re not ready yet, please sign up to receive updates on events and actions!