HB1100 disregards our future

On Feb. 5, the Pennsylvania State Senate voted to send HB1100 to Governor Tom Wolf, who is expected to veto the bill. HB1100 would grant petrochemical companies in Pennsylvania a conditional tax break. Any company receiving the credit must redevelop a brownfield site which would be the location of the factory, extraction site, or nominal manufacturing site. They would have to use Pennsylvania natural gas in their operations, make good faith efforts to employ local construction workers, and provide those workers with a fair wage (rather than the going wages for construction workers in the area). Additionally, the capital investment in the project receiving the tax credit would have to be at least $450 million.

The tax credit, which will likely be used to attract a very small number of very wealthy corporations, will almost certainly become law as both chambers of the PA State Legislature voted with a veto-proof supermajority. Numerous rural Democrats and independents voted for the bill, which follows the same path of a similar tax credit that attracted Shell Oil to build a cracker plant in Beaver County. There's an established pattern in the state legislature where the legislators give a tax credit to a single corporation to build one plant in Pennsylvania. That plant will provide a few hundred permanent jobs and a few hundred construction jobs. Most people in Pennsylvania would see little benefit.

For such a massive tax credit, it's shocking that so little money will enter into the Pennsylvania economy (in the case of the Shell cracker plant and HB1100). Few people will see any gain in income, especially in the long term, as a result of either measure.

There are no legally binding commitments to renewable energy made in HB1100. However, HB1100 would force the corporation involved to redevelop brownfield sites, which are sites of previous manufacturing companies that left the land unusable. Often, brownfield sites are the former locations of slag heaps, petrochemical dumping, or plastics manufacturing. Essentially, these companies who plan to use the tax credit provided by HB1100 are planning to heal the brownfield site by putting another manufacturing site on the land that would only destroy it, again.

This is just one in a series of commitments made by state and local governments to maintain the status of natural gas production, even when renewable sources are the future of energy production. With the cost of renewable energy going down, many people are recognizing renewables as the sustainable future that the planet needs. Without renewables, the supposed geopolitical stability enforced by multinational corporations and intergovernmental organizations will falter. Many people will be put into direct lines of danger, and the corporations and their tax-break-creating governments will be at fault.

Amid all of the tax breaks and new construction is a web of monetary investment that implicates Carnegie Mellon as a proponent of natural gas. Neither Carnegie Mellon nor the University of Pittsburgh has divested their oil and natural gas investments. Higher education in Pittsburgh is pushing the boundaries of our way of life by continuing to invest in fossil fuels that are altering the planet’s climate beyond anything we as a species have ever seen. Carnegie Mellon claims to be such an innovative and forward-thinking school, running on the “OUTLAW” energy as outlined in the Brand guidelines. Yet the university is quite conservative about changing its investments, especially given the rapidly dropping costs of renewable energy production. Clean energy is not only a good investment, but it is also the only way to guarantee human survival beyond the next century. Every drop of fossil fuels we extract from the ground is another grain of sand dropping in the hourglass of humanity.

Not only do Carnegie Mellon’s investments point toward a general disregard of humanity, but recent controversies, like the widely-reported racist map of Pittsburgh that excluded predominantly black neighborhoods, indicate a disregard for a more specific subset of humanity. Poor neighborhoods, which in the United States are disproportionately Black, bear the brunt of industrial pollution and the associated increased mortality rates. The rich, white owners and executives of fossil fuel companies benefitting from massive tax breaks and institutional investment, much like those institutions themselves, care nothing at all for the human lives burned in their quest for profit and expansion.