ClimateDemocracyNews & Opinion
by Sam Bernhardt and Mia DiFelice
Nestled between three rivers lies Pittsburgh, the steel capital at the heart of Southwest Pennsylvania. Once, the mills belched pollution into the air, blackening the shirts of steelworkers and steel magnates alike. Though the air has begun to clear, the region faces the legacy of that pollution and the growing threat of fracking development. Now, in this year’s midterm elections, it will be a battleground in our fight for a greener future.
From Company Towns To A Green New Deal For Southwest PA
Southwest PA has a long history of extractive, polluting industry and environmental racism. The region is dotted with old steel towns that were once standard-bearers for U.S. production. When the steel industry left in the 1980s, it bled jobs and abandoned polluting infrastructure. The region still suffers from abysmal air quality and an outsized asthma problem.
In more recent years, the fracking industry has set its crosshairs on Southwest PA. Across the state, the industry has targeted Black and brown communities for siting their dangerous operations. In 2017, it was announced that Beaver County would become the home of a massive ethane cracker plant that will turn fracked gas into plastics, spewing more pollutants into the air and water.
These threats, old and new, make Southwest PA one of the most important places in the country for building a movement behind the Green New Deal. The Deal will bring clean energy jobs for the folks steel left behind. It will hold industry accountable for the public health crises it’s caused. And it will bring long-overdue environmental justice to all who call Southwest PA home.
Over the years, Food & Water Action has worked with local communities to stop fracking, town by town. In 2022, we’re taking that people power to the ballot box for the midterm elections. We won’t stop until we have the Green New Deal that Southwest PA demands.
Southwest PA Could Change The Climate Game On Multiple Fronts
There’s a lot at stake in the midterms. Time is running out to act on climate change, while Republicans and conservative Democrats have stalled the legislation we need. After a Supreme Court session that, among other blows, kneecapped the EPA’s powers to regulate power plant emissions, we can’t afford to lose in the midterms. Every single vote counts, and Southwestern PA is home to millions of those votes.
In a single election, voters will see critical races for governor, state House and U.S. Senate on their ballots. These races could open new doors for climate legislation. We have the opportunity to elect a 51st Democratic Senator to make Joe Manchin irrelevant. We can also elect a majority-Democrat state House that could block attempts to hand over electoral college votes to the Republican candidate in 2024’s presidential election.
Finally, we can elect a new governor who will actually hold the fracking industry accountable. The Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has brought several lawsuits against the industry. Meanwhile, his opponent, Republican State Senator Doug Mastriano, personally attended the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol. Mastriano also promises to ban abortion in Pennsylvania and encourages more fracking in our state and throughout the country.
In a battleground state like Pennsylvania, this race could be decided by just a handful of votes. That’s why we’re going all in on Southwest PA.
We’ve already had one major victory. In May, Summer Lee won the Democratic primary for the U.S. House seat in our 12th District. A community organizer and state representative, Lee faced millions of dollars in attack ads from corporate SuperPACs. But Food & Water Action mobilized volunteers to send thousands of letters and phone calls to drum up support. She won her primary by 978 votes — every vote mattered.
Working Toward a Greener Future For Southwest PA
Our work doesn’t end in 2022. After we win in November, we’ll pass ambitious climate legislation in Allegheny County. If county officials can’t step up, we’ll empower voters through a ballot measure. And we’ll continue to support communities to win local fights against fracking wells and pipelines.
Southwest Pennsylvania has been a casualty for polluting industries for too long, and we’re fighting back. Food & Water Action is leveraging our long history of grassroots organizing and our relationships with communities on the ground. We will continue empowering communities here until we have a Green New Deal and a green new future for Southwest PA.
We’ll win this fight with your help.