Sign-on letter in Opposition to SB275 / HB1947
December 13, 2021
Dear Members of the Pennsylvania House:
The undersigned group of community leaders and members representing environmental, conservation, clean energy, and faith groups across the state urge your OPPOSITION to Senate Bill 275 (P.N. 1163) and House Bill 1947 (P.N. 2223). SB 275 passed the state Senate on October 27th and was referred to the House Local Government Committee on October 28. This followed after HB 1947 was reported out of the same committee on October 26.
These companion bills have identical language, blocking local governments from adopting any policy that would have the “effect of” limiting gas use in buildings. In other words, this legislation would strip local control and block any municipal effort to improve public health and combat climate change by cleaning up residential and commercial buildings. The bills are written to be overbroad, so that municipal attempts to improve energy efficiency or offer incentives for cleaner appliances would be open to a legal challenge in state court.
Pennsylvania’s municipal officials are responsible for the health and safety of their residents, and must continue to exercise their authority to enact policies in the best interest of their communities. Plainly stated, SB 275 and HB 1947 would usurp this local authority. Local elected officials represent the level of government closest to the people they govern. They focus on the critical issues that matter most to local people, and these priorities differ widely across the Commonwealth. As residents in some parts of Pennsylvania are becoming increasingly aware of the climate, health, and safety risks of burning methane in our buildings, they are looking for alternatives to protect their health and our environment.
In 2019, residential and commercial buildings accounted for 27% of total U.S. gas consumption. The scientific community has been clear: in order to meet our climate goals, we must decarbonize our entire economy. Stripping away control from local officials to incentivize any alternatives to gas infrastructure will make meeting that goal harder to achieve and more expensive. It is estimated that, if passed, SB 275 and HB 1947 would prevent Pennsylvania from tackling 13.7 million metric tons of CO2 over the next 30 years, hamstringing local communities from reducing their climate pollution.
It is already cheaper to build new homes with electric-only appliances, to say nothing of the cost of future retrofits. Furthermore, the expansion of gas distribution infrastructure is fiscally irresponsible as it will likely lead to significant stranded assets, a cost that will inevitably be borne by ratepayers.
Ensuring that local officials have authority to implement policies promoting cleaner energy alternatives is also important for protecting public health. Burning methane emits pollutants. The resulting mix of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine particulates, formaldehyde, and other pollutants can have serious health ramifications such as increased risk of asthma, aggravated respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms, and neurological conditions.
Research also suggests that long-term average NO2 exposure can increase the risk of diabetes, cancer, and premature mortality. A UCLA study found that gas stoves and ovens lead to indoor air pollution levels that exceed state and federal standards for acute outdoor air pollution in 90% of homes after just one hour of use. As a consequence, children who grow up in a home with a gas stove are 42% more likely to develop asthma than those who don’t.
A recent study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health examined the health impacts of combustion of all fuels for various end uses and found that in 2017:
Pennsylvania ranked second among all states in premature deaths attributable to fuel combustion in buildings (over 1,500 people);
Nearly a quarter of those deaths were attributable to burning methane; and
The cost of negative health impacts of burning gas in buildings in Pennsylvania was over $4.2 billion per year.
Explosions and fires are also concerns that stem from the use of gas, such as the explosion in South Philadelphia that killed two people in late 2019. It is estimated that local fire departments respond to an average of 340 gas leaks per day (a number that is increasing as infrastructure ages), and that methane ignition is the cause of 4,200 structure fires and 40 deaths per year.
Moreover, these bills are likely unconstitutional. Pennsylvania courts have a history of striking down a wide variety of state laws that preempted local governments, including Act 192 of 2014 (gun control) and Act 13 of 2012 (regulating oil and gas development). Language slipped into a recent budget that prohibits municipal bans or taxes on plastic bags or packaging is currently being challenged in Commonwealth Court. Specifically, given the climate and health risks posed by gas burning and infrastructure, these bills likely violate Article I, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which establishes a trustee obligation for the Commonwealth to preserve and maintain our public natural resources, including clean air. If the state prevents municipalities from protecting air quality (as these bills would do), it violates this responsibility.
SB 275 and HB 1947 are part of a coordinated, national effort by the fossil fuel industry to strip control away from local leaders. In 2019, cities in states outside Pennsylvania began taking steps to limit gas connections in new construction. In response, the American Gas Association, a trade organization “representing energy companies that deliver natural gas,” has been pushing state legislatures across the country to pass laws prohibiting these local policies. So far, over 20 states have adopted legislation to preempt local governments and similar legislation has been introduced in many others, including SB 275 and HB 1947 here in Pennsylvania.
Given this, we ask that you vote NO on SB 275 and HB 1947. Thank you very much for your consideration.
Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel, Clean Air Council
David Masur, Executive Director, PennEnvironment
Jacquelyn Bonomo, President and CEO, PennFuture
Steven Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania Campaigns Director, Clean Water Action
Katie Blume, Political Director, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania
Liz Robinson, Executive Director, Philadelphia Solar Energy Association
Patrice Tomcik, National Field Manager, Moms Clean Air Force
Jennifer Krill, Executive Director, Earthworks
Katie Bartolotta, Policy and Programs Director, Green Building United
Mark Szybist, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council
Tom Schuster, Clean Energy Program Director, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter
Tonyehn Verkitus, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility PA
Joy Bergey, Director, Environmental Justice Center of Chestnut Hill United Church
Ron Celentano, President, PA Solar & Storage Industries Association
Emma Horst-Martz, Advocate, PennPIRG
Bishop Dwayne Royster, Executive Director, POWER Interfaith
Elena Weissmann, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Vote Solar
Sandra Strauss, Director of Advocacy & Ecumenical Outreach, Pennsylvania Council of Churches
Kathy Cook, League of Women Voters PA Environmental Policy Director, LWVPA
Arthur Purcaro, Assistant Vice President for Mission and Ministry, Co-Chair of the Sustainability Leadership Council, Villanova University
Peter Crownfield, Coordinator, Alliance for Sustainable Communities-Lehigh Valley
Glenn Olcerst, General Counsel, Rail Pollution Protection Pittsburgh
Dara Bortman, CEO, Sustainable Solar Systems
Garth Ehrlich, Dr., Ehrlich Biomedical Consulting LLC
Daniel Rossi-Keen, Executive Director, RiverWise
Jose Duenas, Manager of school programs, Schuylkill Center For Environmental Education
Fred Kraybill, Manager, Thomas Blvd Group
Sharon Furlong, Spokesperson, Bucks Environmental Action
Susan Murawski, President, Presque Isle Audubon Society
Nancy Winkler, Member, Climate Action Lower Merion
Sue Xue Ming, Professor of Neurology, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School
Glenn Wenger, Member, West Pikeland Township Environmental Advisory Council
Linda Sander, Social Justice Committee Chair, Unitarian Congregation of West Chester
Tracy Lira, H-CAN Climate Action Group Leader, H-CAN
Steve Olshevski, Earthcare Activist, Eco Justice Collaborative
Mitch Chanin, Co-Chair, Climate Justice Caucus, Reclaim Philadelphia
Mark Squilla, City Councilmember, Philadelphia
Erika Strassburger, Pittsburgh City Council Member, City of Pittsburgh
Jim Lee, Commissioner, Springfield Township (Montco)
Ward Allebach, Adjunct Professor, University of Pittsburgh
Karen Beck Pooley, Professor of Practice, Lehigh University
Erik Cordes, Professor and Vice Chair of BIology, Temple University
Dr. Lana Fishkin, MD
Amanda Wooden, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies & Sciences, Bucknell University
Dr. Shelley Ross
Casey Schneck, Program Admin, Keystone Trails Association
Dr. Elizabeth Lowenthal, Pediatrician,
Dennis Ray, East Pikeland Twp. EAC Chair,
Barbara Gold, Physician
Michael Butler, Associate Professor, Lafayette College
Scott Van Bramer, Professor of Chemistry, Widener University
Paloma Vila, Sustainability Manager, Township of Lower Merion
Stew Friedman, Professor of Management Practice, The Wharton School, U of Pennsylvania
Avinash Linganna, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute
Cheryl Fattibene, Professor, Temple University
Breena Holland, Professor, Lehigh University
Charles Jones, Senior Lecturer, University of Pittsburgh
Dr. Corinne Masur, PCOP
Mark Putnam, MD, Berkshire Psychiatric and Behavioral Health Services
Alan Peterson, Emeritus Director of Environmental and Community Medicine at Lancaster General Health
Shawn Hogan , Chair, Philly DSA