Poll shows Pennsylvania voters back climate action

Pennsylvania voters are serious about climate change, according to a new poll. But for their representatives in Harrisburg and Washington, solutions aren’t always up for debate.

A wide majority of Pennsylvanians registered to vote, 67 percent, believe climate change is already causing problems, while a similar proportion believe the state needs to do more to fix them, according to a Franklin & Marshall College poll released Thursday.

The findings come amid a churn of climate news, from scientists’ dire warnings to congressional debates on solutions.

But at least one proposed framework — the so-called Green New Deal proposed most prominently by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. — was shot down last week in a Senate vote backed by Republicans.

Democrats discouraged discussion on the vote, which they characterized as a sham intended to mock the proposal.

While different definitions of the Green New Deal plan have circulated, it includes sweeping public works projects and a rapid shift to renewable energy on a scale exceeding the infrastructure projects of the 1930s. Climate scientists working for federal agencies said in November that “substantial and sustained global efforts” are needed to reverse warming trends already impacting the U.S.

Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., mocked the Green New Deal proposal as a power grab that goes too far. In a news release after the unanimous no vote last week, Toomey said some of the reforms are “impossible” to carry out.

“The Green New Deal is a ridiculous proposal that would devastate the American economy,” Toomey said. “Eliminating the use of natural gas and other fossil fuels, phasing out air travel as we know it and forcing the renovation of every building in the country is impossible and not based in reality.”

Some of Toomey’s GOP colleagues have described the plan as a jumping-off point for further climate discussion. But their solutions diverge widely from those backed by Pennsylvania voters.

According to the new Franklin & Marshall poll, more than two-thirds of Penn­sylvanians believe the state should prioritize renewable energy, while more than half believe nuclear power should be part of the state’s strategy.

Toomey, however, backs a rollback of policies that encourage renewable energy. On his website, the senator says a “level playing field” mandates the elimination of renewable energy subsidies, while he argues that reduced federal coal regulations are part of an “environmentally responsible energy agenda.”

In Harrisburg, too, the parties remain split on even the broadest climate questions. Last week, House GOP members invited a Pittsburgh geologist known as a climate-change skeptic to a hearing, drawing criticism from Democrats and environmental activists. Gregory Wrightstone, who has worked as a consultant for natural gas companies, said the planet has undergone a gradual warming that benefits humanity.

Gov. Tom Wolf decried the hearing on Twitter: “Using a taxpayer-funded hearing to minimize this threat is a waste of time,” he said.

The disconnect is mirrored, at least partially, among Pennsylvania voters. According to the Franklin & Marshall poll released last week, 88 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of independents believe the state should act to stop climate change. Just over 40 percent of Republicans feel the same way.

Vote security spurs deadline fight

Local lawmakers are leaping into a statewide fight over voting machines as the 2020 election draws closer.

Senators sparred with state officials last week over a sweeping Wolf administration mandate for voting machines to be replaced in time for the presidential election. And a proposal by Rep. Rich Irvin, R-Huntingdon, to delay the replacement process is awaiting a hearing in a House committee.

The ruling stems from the discovery — following the 2016 election — that hacking attempts were made against the voting system of at least 20 states, including Pennsylvania. Federal investigators traced the attacks, which were unsuccessful, to Russia.

Since then, state election officials have called on county election agencies to replace their machines with new models that adhere to high security standards. The proposed replacements would provide a paper receipt of a voter’s choice, with the ability to certify the decision in writing.

Machines used by as many as 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters don’t adhere to that requirement, a cybersecurity expert told a Senate panel last week.

Some Republican lawmakers have argued the administration’s mass decertification of existing machines goes too far, however. Sen. John Gordner, R-Columbia, has said the cost of mass replacement could go well beyond $100 million, a high tally with the state deadline set at the end of this year.

Irvin proposed a bill earlier this month to effectively override the state ruling on machines, protecting those that meet looser federal standards. Counties that use paper or ink systems to record votes would be protected from the ruling for four years, according to Irvin’s plan.

“In many counties across Pennsylvania, systems are already in use that allow the voter to verify his or her ballot before it is cast and hold a paper record of the votes that were cast,” Irvin said in a written statement when he proposed the bill. “Our counties, for the most part, simply don’t have the type of funds necessary to overhaul their voting system within a one-year window.”


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