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Blue-Green Caucus chases job growth and climate protection

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(The Center Square) — On the heels of Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s green energy proposals for a state cap and trade program, House Democrats offered a dozen bills that couple economic growth with environmental protection.

The legislative agenda includes 11 proposals focused on energy production, conservation, consumer energy costs, public transit funding, and efficiency standards for appliances, among other topics.

“The shared agenda that we’re rolling out shows that there’s a lot more that unites the labor community and environmental advocates than divides us,” said Katie Blume, political and legislative director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. “These bills will create good union jobs, lower costs for working families and local businesses, and help protect our air and water — now and in the future.”

Legislators of the 55-member Blue-Green Caucus argued the bills they’re introducing show that strong environmental policies can complement labor priorities.

“Pennsylvanians don’t need to choose between good jobs and protecting the environment,” a press release noted.

Labor leaders came out to support the plan, much as they did with Gov. Shapiro’s proposal to torpedo the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in favor of an independent Pennsylvania alternative.

“The plan starts a framework for the discussions on cleaning up the environment, creating good jobs, and it puts Pennsylvania first,” said Robert Bair, president of the Pennsylvania Building Trades Council. “We can help fix the sins of our forefathers when it was done wrong.”

He argued the bills mean progress and offer a pragmatic approach.

“If we’re going to put Pennsylvania first, if we’re going to create jobs, if we’re going to move the needle on the climate, then we have to compromise,” Bair said.

The bills aim to expand the use of solar panels at public schools and community solar; limit water and wastewater privatization; and apply prevailing wage standards to green energy projects that get federal and state tax credits.

Rep. Elizabeth Fielder, D-Philadelphia and chair of the caucus, argued the bills would “reignite the green energy field here in Pennsylvania.”

Some bills, like community solar and solar projects at schools, have passed the House and await action in the Senate. Others, like prevailing wages on green energy projects and appliance efficiency standards, still must work their way through the Democratic-controlled chamber before advancing to face the Republican-led Senate.

Beyond calls for pragmatism and compromise, legislators also pressed on the perceived urgency of the bills to deal with climate change.

“If we don’t do something now, it’s only going to continue to get worse if it remains unchecked,” said Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-Springfield.

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