By Kirsten Wong
Current Contributing Writer
A year ago, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto gained national attention for challenging President Donald Trump for pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The move proved that Peduto was willing to fight for climate change outside of the city’s boundaries.
On Saturday a group of environmental youth activists asked Peduto to get invovled agin on a grander scale.
On Saturday, youth organizers and local environmental groups led a march through Downtown to demand local politicians enact policies that will reduce the effects of climate change. The organizers focused on pushing County Executive Rich Fitzgerald to end the expansion of fracking in Allegheny County and Mayor Peduto to speak out against the Shell Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County.
A group of 100 protestors and activists gathered on Grant Street in front of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s office as part of various Youth Climate Marches happening in cities across the country.
Zero Hour — a nationwide coalition of environmental organizations advocating for action on climate change and environmental justice — is part of a larger movement to push politicians into adopting policies that will combat climate change. In Pittsburgh, several organizations co-hosted the march including 350, NextGen America, PennEnvironment, Youth Power Collective, Center for Coalfield Justice, Marcellus Outreach Butler, and college student organizations.
Anais Peterson, a Pitt student who organized the march, says the mayor has done a lot to promote sustainability policies and renewable energy, however she wants to see him use his power to speak out against fracking projects outside the city that still affect city residents.
“He has the connections and resources to bring people in and say this is only going to bring 600 jobs, it’s creating plastic that will create more waste and it will add more pollution to our air and water and harm our communities,” Peterson said. “He is looking at things through a small, local lense but it affects all of us.”
Peterson is referring to the proposed chemical plant in Potter Township owned by Shell Oil Company and is projected to open in the early 2020’s. Peduto previously stated that while he does not have jurisdiction over Beaver County, he is continuing his commitment to the city using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.
Throughout the march, people held signs reading: “We demand a future,” “Fitzgerald stop fracking, explore renewables,” and “Toomey Fund Climate Science.”
Ruth Karlin, 84, has been a supporter of stronger regulations on fossil fuel companies for more than 30 years, but is looking to the next generation to push for policy change.
“We should keep coal and oil in the ground,” Karlin said. “My voice has a catch in it because of the pollution, yet when I leave the city I notice it’s not as bad.”
The crowd of people stopped in front of the Allegheny Courthouse to address County Executive Rich Fitzgerald where his office is located. The protesters urged Fitzgerald to stop the expansion of fracking and form a committee that would look into clean alternative energy for the county. Fitzgerald has previously supported projects that lease land for shale gas drilling citing economic benefits such as stabilizing Pittsburgh International Airport’s finances.
Peterson said Fitzgerald did not show any interest in forming a committee to look at alternative energy sources when they met due to the jobs and economic growth coming from the industry.
Fitzgerald and Peduto’s office could not be reached immediately for comment.
Joan Vondra, a retired professor from Fox Chapel, does not want any fracking in her community.
“I would’ve never moved here if I knew how polluted it was,” Vondra said after citing an American Lung Association study that ranks Pittsburgh as the eighth in the nation for the most long-term pollution. Vondra and her husband moved here from Rochester, New York to teach Applied Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh.
The organizers carried a 30-foot banner that read, “Peduto, Stand With Paris, Stand With PGH, Stand Against Shell Cracker Plant” which stretched over the street alongside the marchers. It was used during a banner drop in June when a group of students from the organization, Free the Planet, hung the banner off the Smithfield Street Bridge.
Ed Chute, a resident of Mt. Lebanon, also expressed his concerns of well pads leaking chemicals in his neighborhood. He lived in Mt. Pleasant with his wife before a well pad was built on top of a hill near his home.
“We could see what was happening when it came in 2013. We figured they wouldn’t frack in Mt. Lebanon since there is no space to drill,” he said. They moved to Mt. Lebanon shortly afterwards to get away from the industrial activity.
According to data compiled by NPR, there are 91 active wells in Mt. Pleasant currently compared to a total of 63 active wells in Allegheny County.
Isabelle Ouyang, a Pitt student and member of the Fossil Free Coalition, spoke about the coalition’s campaign calling for Pitt to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources.
Protesters continued walking toward Sixth Avenue chanting “What do we want? Climate Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and “The oceans are rising, and so are we!” until they made their final stop at Smithfield Street.
Krista Lee, a NextGen America Fellow, urged the crowd to vote in November’s election and to mobilize millennials to support environmentally friendly candidates before directing the crowd to Mellon Square where environmental groups set up tables and stands near the fountain.
“I hope to see you at the polls,” Lee said.
Matt Hadfield, the Regional Organizing Director of NextGen America, is organizing in western Pennsylvania to register young people to vote in the general election in November. Since June, the organization has registered 600 people in an effort to empower young people to vote for progressive policies.
“This march shows the momentum of young people getting involved and voting for change,” Hadfield said. “I was proud to see the groups come together in advocating for local policies and environmental justice.”