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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has “Gutted” Renewable Energy Programs in Favor of Natural Gas

By Stephen Lacey  

"Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett has “Gutted” Renewable Energy Programs in Favor of Natural Gas"

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There’s a lot of debate about whether increasing natural gas production will help or hurt renewables.

In Pennsylvania, where a major shale gas boom is underway, Governor Tom Corbett is doing exactly what renewable energy supporters feared, according to a recent story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

The Corbett administration is de-emphasizing renewable energy and energy conservation, eliminating programs created by previous Democratic and Republican administrations as it focuses on natural gas energy from booming Marcellus Shale.

Quietly but systematically, the administration has all but shut down the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Energy and Technology Deployment — the state’s primary energy office — and removed directors and reassigned staff in the Office of Energy Management in the Department of General Services and the Governor’s Green Government Council.

It has also forbidden state executive agencies from signing contracts that support clean energy supply.

After many years of strong build-up of Pennsylvania’s renewable energy industry under former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell, is all that work being dismantled in the name of natural gas?

Rendell signed a renewable energy standard into law, created manufacturing incentives, and expanded rebates and loans for renewable energy projects – helping spur the creation of tens of thousands of jobs in the state. But some groups fear that is all being swept aside by the Corbett Administration:

One former DEP employee, who asked that he not be named because he continues to work on energy issues in Harrisburg, said of the Energy Office, “it’s being taken apart piece-by-piece and the pieces are being thrown away.”

“In the past 12 years, Pennsylvania has gone from having virtually no clean energy jobs to employing more than 106,000 Pennsylvanians in the clean energy industry, despite the national recession,” said Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive officer of Penn Future. “These program cuts and legislative attacks threaten to kill those good, family-sustaining jobs.”

Governor Corbett’s energy executive, Patrick Henderson, responded to the criticism this week, saying that the state was still committed to renewable energy – stressing the need to expand a broad portfolio of resources:

“Gov. Corbett understands the critical importance of all energy resources, including renewables, both to our economy and our quality of life,” Henderson wrote in a letter Monday responding to the Post-Gazette story. “He remains committed to policies which respect taxpayer dollars and grow all our energy industries in a sustainable manner.”

But the signs suggest Pennsylvania’s Governor is taking his eyes off renewables and focusing heavily on natural gas.

In his budget address this year, Corbett exclaimed that he wanted to turn Pennsylvania into “the Texas of the natural-gas boom.” While fighting any taxes on natural gas drilling operations, he proposed cutting $170 million from clean energy programs.

Along with banning the purchase of renewable electricity for government buildings, Corbett downsized the Office of Energy and Technology Deployment. Employees at the agency fear those cuts will severely impact the state’s ability to run rebate and loan programs for renewable energy projects.

As one former employee explained: The programs and staff have been marginalized so much.”

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