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DEP to get and earful at the University of Scranton

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.


“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,”

Shaffer said.


“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

university.


Shaffer, a former intern at PSR PA, organized the event and was encouraged by the

turnout.


“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

behind it.”


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

us now.”


Chris Kelly's Opinion - Originally published in the Scranton Times Tribune on October 10, 2023.

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