By Nick Keppler
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
At a “town hall” on climate change at Soldiers & Sailors on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, (D-Pittsburgh), emphasized the need to reach lofty carbon emission reduction goals by 2050, while being politically inclusive to people now reliant on polluting industries and supporting new greener technologies. Doyle stopped short of endorsing the Green New Deal, a popular policy proposal on the left, but said he shares many of its ambitions.
“[I]nfrastructure upgrades, transitioning to renewables, investing in research and development, growing our workforce, retrofitting buildings and expanding electric vehicles, for example, are all critical in reaching our climate goals,” listed Doyle, “and I believe these components will be included in any climate bill that will be considered.”
He vowed that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which he sits, will hold a set of hearings. “The result of this process will be comprehensive climate legislation to address the climate crisis,” he said, “and facilitate the transition of the U.S. economy to net-zero greenhouse gas pollution by 2050.”
The crowd came with “Ban Fracking Now” buttons and “Pennsylvanians for 100% Renewable Energy” signs, but before they could question the congressman about their own environmental aspirations, they sat through nearly two hours of panel discussions, that encompassed 12 speakers, including moderators, organizers, heads of environmental groups and officials from alternative energy manufacturers. Some attendees nodded off or scrolled through their phones through the long discourse.
When Doyle announced he would take questions at 8:35, he warned that he had rented the auditorium only until 9 p.m., at which the Soldiers & Sailors staff would be “shutting off the lights.”
A long line snaked around the auditorium, waiting for a chance at the microphone.
Matt Broerman, a grad student in statistics at the University of Pittsburgh, criticized Doyle for the format. “I don’t think this was a town hall,” he said. “I think was a panel discussion with questions at the end. Will you commit today to holding an actual town hall with the singular focus of answering questions about the climate?”
“Maybe we have different definitions of town hall,” retorted Doyle.
“My definition is from the dictionary!” shouted Broerman.
“I think it’s important that we share information with folks,” Doyle said in his defense. “There is a lot of misinformation floating out there. There are a lot of people who don’t understand how we get from here to [net-zero carbon emissions by] 2050. I think it’s educational to ask members of our community who are working on these technologies and on advocacy to talk about how we can get these things done.”
Doyle did not comment on having another town hall but stayed until 9:15 to address everyone who remained in line, taking comments from 19 attendees.
A Squirrel Hill woman asked Doyle about the “exploitation” of rural workforces dependent on coal and fracking jobs. Doyle mentioned President Donald Trump’s visit to the Pennsylvania Shell ethylene cracker plant in Beaver County the previous day.
“Construction started in 2012 and [Trump] said, ‘You people wouldn’t have a job. None of you would have a job if not for me. I helped create all this wealth for you,’” said Doyle. “That’s the message that’s being delivered by him in these areas that have been hit hard economically and I saw that on television and I saw too many heads nodding. Those were union members in the building trades that are most Democrats and that’s what scares me about this president when 2020 comes around the corner.”
Doyle criticized 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton for telling coal miners “in West Virginia they were screwed.” “You can’t do that to people,” he added, “and I just think we have to bring people along.”
He said that Democrats need to show such voters that a green transition could benefit them, adding, “If they were building a wind turbine manufacturing plant there or a solar manufacturing plant, all those people in Beaver County would be great supporters.”
When Doyle spoke of the cracker plant, expected to release 2.2 million tons of carbon dioxide each year to produce plastic, a few in the crowd shouted, “Help us shut it down!”
When an Arctic researcher asked Doyle about closing the plant, the congressman replied such a measure “wouldn’t eliminate it. It would relocate it and my fear is we relocate these plants to places where there are no standards and they will pollute even more.”
Doyle addressed the proposal du jour, the Green New Deal, which would restructure the U.S. economy to move towards the goal of net-zero carbon emissions (at which U.S. industrial activity exacts as much carbon from the atmosphere as it releases). Doyle was not one of the sponsors of the Green New Deal resolution, introduced in the House by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).
“The Green New Deal got a lot of attention when it was introduced in February,” said Doyle, “but I believe it has kicked off an important conversation and has built momentum to address climate change and protect our climate, and I agree with the supporters of the Green New Deal’s goal of getting the U.S. economy to zero carbon emissions quickly. I share many of its long-term goals as well and I believe that components of the Green New Deal will be a part of any comprehensive climate bill that comes out of the House of Representatives. ”
Doyle stated his support for nuclear power and for carbon capture technologies as solutions. The later would address the climate conundrum of relying on developing countries to give up industrial muscle pushing them forward.
“Countries like China and India are going to be burning coal for the next 50 or 60 years,” said Doyle. “Why doesn’t America create the technologies and manufacturing in our country and sell it to the Chinese and sell it to the Indians and create green energy jobs right here in our area?”
He added no plan could be too narrow. “Many of our most respected climate scientists tell us that in order to meet our 2050 goals, we need every tool as part of our toolbox.”