Politicians, policymakers and much of the public have largely ignored dire warnings
about the disastrous consequences of climate change for decades. As its effects
grow more obvious and immediate, some voices say it’s already too late.
Karla Shaffer doesn’t want to hear that.
The political science major and student government president at the University of
Scranton is determined to bring more young Americans into the discussion of
environmental justice for the planet and the people, animals and plants who live on
“It’s important for people my age to get involved in this,” the 21-year-old Doylestown
native said Monday as we chatted about two upcoming public comment sessions
with officials of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The first, a virtual
online hearing, is scheduled for Wednesday evening, followed by a meeting at the
university’s Loyola Science Center on Monday night.
Both forums offer opportunities to help shape environmental justice policy in a state
that has been exploited by extraction industries for most of its 235-year history. A
better future commonwealth depends upon the Pennsylvanians alive today.
“I think you have to approach this topic delicately, because if we say that it’s too late,
people are going to feel disheartened, and they won’t want to do anything about it,”
“So it’s not too late. But at the same time, we have to act very urgently to fix what
we’ve done. In the time humans have been on Earth since the Industrial Revolution,
we’ve done a lot of damage.”
Evidence abounds, particularly here in Northeast Pennsylvania. The coal barons who
strip-mined the region and its people for anthracite came back to frack for natural gas. Gas burns cleaner than coal, but it’s still a fossil fuel that pollutes the
environment and accelerates climate change.
In May, a PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center report on greenhouse gas
emissions named the Lackawanna Energy Center in Jessup and the Moxie Freedom
Generating Station in Salem Twp. among “Pennsylvania’s Dirty Dozen.” According to
PennEnvironment, the Jessup plant emitted 3.75 million tons of greenhouse gases in
2021. The Luzerne County facility spewed 2.6 million tons.
Greenhouse gas emissions have public health and quality of life impacts state
“watchdogs” like DEP are loathe to examine too closely or acknowledge too firmly,
which is why anyone who breathes should issue a sigh of relief for advocacy groups
like Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania (PSR PA). The nonprofit
recently presented a townhall discussion on the health hazards of fracking at the
Shaffer, a former intern at PSR PA, organized the event and was encouraged by the
“I would say, of the people that showed up in person, a good third of them were
people my age,” she said. The Aquinas, the university’s exceptional student
newspaper, was also a welcome attendee, Shaffer said.
All are welcome to attend Wednesday’s online event and Monday’s meeting on
campus. Visit http://www.dep.pa.gov/EJPolicyRevision to register for the virtual
gathering, slated for 5-7 p.m. The on-campus meeting is Monday from 6-8 p.m. in
Room 133 of the university’s Loyola Science Center, 100 Linden St., Scranton.
Pat Clark, a leader of Friends of Lackawanna, was looking forward to both events
when we spoke Tuesday. The grassroots group fighting the unconscionable 40-
plus-year expansion of Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore and Throop is a
model of people pulling together to pressure politicians and policymakers to
protect the health of the public they swore oaths to serve.
Clark pointed out that public testimony collected at the two events could impact
environmental justice policy for years to come.
“Environmental justice policy has always been full of noble intentions, but no teeth
or enforceability,” he said. “The intent here is to see whether we can get some teeth
That can only happen if the public puts its voice out front, especially young
Americans who have the most to lose from climate change.
“Really, it comes down to my generation to see the world through a lens of
sustainability,” Shaffer said. “It’s not just something that environmental science
students should worry about. … It’s completely interdisciplinary. There’s space in
every major, in every career, for you to think about being more sustainable and
thinking about the world and what you’re doing …
“Because we’re the ones who have to live in it, and we’re already very much seeing
the effects of it. It’s not something that’s going to affect us in the future. It’s affecting
Chris Kelly's Opinion - Originally published in the Scranton Times Tribune on October 10, 2023.