The GOP’s Anti-Environmentalism

For the past several decades, the Republican Party has been the anti-environmental party, despite the fact that the EPA was created during the Nixon Administration. Indeed, in our own State Legislature, which has been led for most of the past 30 years by the GOP, oil and gas companies have been essentially given free rein to operate in the Commonwealth without having to pay for the unhealthy ecological wastes and the scarred landscapes they leave behind.

This is why the issue of well-capping has become so important. Pennsylvania is home to an overwhelming number of old, abandoned oil and gas wells that have been leaking dangerous toxins into our air and water, and as a result are overdue to be safely capped and plugged. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has located about 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells but says there are an additional 350,000 that remain undocumented. I find it alarming to learn that only Texas has more abandoned wells than Pennsylvania.

How did we get here? 

There are several reasons, including the fact that many of the large corporate entities that originally operated these wells sold them off to smaller companies that lack the financial resources to plug the wells. Furthermore, the bond amount required for future clean-up ($2,500 per well) doesn’t come close to covering the actual plugging costs, which on average are about $30,000 per well but can be as much as $100,000. Add to this the fact that many wells in Pennsylvania were drilled before modern mapping and regulations, which has made locating them extremely difficult. These challenges have been made worse by the laws and policies of Republicans in the PA Legislature, who have held the majority for most of the past 30 years, that have reduced the DEP’s staff and resources and severely weakened its enforcement power.

Governor Shapiro’s administration is working to ramp up the well-capping program, counting on financial support from the Biden administration, as well as legislative help from Democrats in the PA Legislature. Pennsylvania received $25 million last year from the Biden administration’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, as well as another $44 million through the Inflation Reduction Act. These federal funds helped the state plug 139 abandoned wells last year. In addition, the DEP has been using the funding to inspect and inventory more orphaned and abandoned wells, and to implement a new enforcement strategy. The DEP expects to receive $76 million a year for the next four years to continue these efforts.

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Summer Lee (PA-12) has been working on a bi-partisan bill in Washington that addresses issues related to abandoned wells. The bill would create an office within the U.S. Department of Energy that would help identify, find and plug abandoned wells and create a better understanding of the level of methane emitted by the wells. Methane is up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide and therefore is a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change.

Clearly, these efforts are only a drop in the bucket. There are a whole host of environmental issues that have been ignored or made worse by the GOP, which continues to spout the false choice between protecting jobs and protecting our planet. The Democratic party believes it’s possible to do both – we can protect Pennsylvania’s clean air and water and still create good-paying jobs.

Represent PA invests in strong women incumbents and first-time candidates for PA’s State Legislature who align with progressive priorities, including protecting the environment. Help us in our effort to flip the Legislature from Red to Blue – from anti-environmental to pro-environmental.

– Karen Gelman, Represent PA Volunteer